One of the best forms of exercise for older folks, who might otherwise suffer from couch-potatoism, is walking a dog on a daily basis.
I’m one of those older folks. I take two one-mile walks daily with my pal Wasabi and that’s a lot more exercise than a once-a-week round of golf at Grand Strand courses that do not even permit walking.
So I was surprised to learn this week that for people over 65, walking a dog can be downright dangerous.
That’s right. A University of Pennsylvania study found that strolling with a dog on a leash “imparts significant and rising injury risk in older adults.”
Turns out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission studied 100 emergency rooms nationwide and found an increasing number of dog-walking injuries, most commonly broken hips, wrists and upper arms.
The number of dog-walking fractures, in fact, rose from 1,671 in 2004 to 4,396 in 2017.
Researcher Jaimo Ahn of Penn Medicine attributes the increase partly to the increasing number of older Americans and the fact they are more active than previous generations. He also mentions suggestions, like mine at the top of this column, that older Americans should get a dog to improve their health.
“We make all these recommendations about pets, yet we don’t really understand if there are potential negative implications,” Ahn said in a Washington Post interview. “There are things we should be aware of before saying, `Hey, you should get a dog and take your dog for a walk.’”
Personally, I think the size of the dog plays a role.
On my own block in McClellanville are two older people, both frail, who own large dogs.
One of them, a Vietnam veteran with an unsteady walk, owns a German shepherd named Gus. I wrote about Gus previously when some of us built a fence for him.
One day, on a leash, Gus dashed off and pulled his owner down, severely injuring his shoulder. A neighbor drove him to get medical attention. Eventually, he had a trainer work with Gus for several weeks and he is now able to walk him without a leash. Danger averted.
The other person is our next-door neighbor, a woman about my age whose aging Australian shepherd died about three years ago. She did not wait long before getting another Aussie puppy she named Cooper.
Within months, Cooper was almost uncontrollable. It’s a beautiful, friendly dog but every time I see him with our neighbor I worry that she’s going down. She thinks I’m silly, but the University of Pennsylvania study tells me I’m not.
I’m not as frail as either of them and my dog is much smaller than either of theirs. Even so, there are moments when my 20-pound Wasabi flies down the stairs as we begin our walk. I have to hold on to something or I’d come flying right behind him.
So now I’m wondering if Wasabi might be hazardous to my health, too. Ah, well. I love him. A broken bone wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Contact Bob Bestler at firstname.lastname@example.org.