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updated 2/8/2011 11:55:07 AM ET 2011-02-08T16:55:07

A furry, four-pawed best friend could be the key to getting your kid off the couch and away from the TV screen, a new study suggests.

Teens from dog-owning families get about 15 more minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity than teens who don't have any pets, the study said.

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"You can think of your dog not only as your best friend, but also a social support tool for being active," study researcher John Sirard, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, said in a statement.

Sirard and his colleagues surveyed 618 pairs of Minneapolis adolescents and their parents about the number of dogs in their home, and how much time they spent doing physical activities. For one week, 318 of those teens also wore accelerometers, which are wrist watch-like devices that collect data regarding how and when the body is moving.

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Teens from dog-owning families recorded greater amounts of movement on the accelerometers, even after researchers took into account demographic variables, such as gender, race and socioeconomic status.

The finding was unexpected because the researchers anticipated the dog-walking responsibilities would be taken by the parents. "We hypothesized it would have an effect on adults, but we didn't see that. We saw it in the kids," Sirard said.

Despite the link between dog ownership and teenagers' physical activity, researchers said they could not be certain that getting a dog would encourage people to be more active. It could be that more active people choose to have dogs, because the pet already fits their lifestyle, Sirard said.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently recommends teenagers and young adults to get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise most days of the week.

The study will be published in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Pass it on: Owning a dog is linked with an increase in physical activity in teenagers.

Follow MyHealthNewsDaily on Twitter @ MyHealth_MHND.

Vote: Would you get a dog to help your teen exercise more?

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