They are known as the man's best friend. But scientists say dogs are more than just a faithful companion to their owners.
A new study by a team from the Michigan State University found that dog owners are more likely to reach recommended fitness levels than people without a pet.
People who own and walk their dogs regularly are 34 per cent more likely to hit exercise targets, they found. The findings showed that promoting dog ownership and dog walking could help many people become healthier, said Mathew Reeves who co-authored the study.
"Obviously you would expect dog walkers to walk more, but we found people who walked their dog also had higher overall levels of both moderate and vigorous physical activities," Dr Reeves was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
"There appears to be a strong link between owning and walking a dog and achieving higher levels of physical activity, even after accounting for the actual dog walking."
For their study, the researchers used data from the Michigan Department of Community Health and found that not only did owning and walking a dog affect the amount of walking a person does but also that dog walkers were more active overall.
The study showed people who walked their dogs generally walked about an hour longer per week than people who owned dogs but did not walk them, the researchers said.
The study analysed the amount of leisure-time physical activity a person gets, including playing sports, exercise conditioning and recreation such as walking, dancing and gardening.
It is recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of such activity a week.