As we approach summer, the days are getting long and soon it will be high time for children to be active, exploring the outdoors. While it is a well-known fact that children and young people should aim to be active for at least an hour each day to make sure they keep their hearts, bodies and minds healthy, doing so can be difficult in the dead of winter. A British study shows that families with a dog tend to be more active, rain or shine, and help in the fight against childhood obesity.

The results, published in the American Journal of Public Health, showed that the children with dogs in the family spent an average of 325 minutes doing physical activity every day — 11 more minutes than those without dogs. The dog-owning participants also took 360 more steps than the others, an increase of 4%.

Cause and effect may be hard to prove, though. “The more active lifestyles of children from dog-owning families is really interesting — is it that owning a dog makes you more active or that more active families choose to have a dog? Long-term studies are needed to answer it, but it may be a bit of both.

Dogs not only encourage your child to be more active: new research in the journal Pediatrics shows that children who live at home with a dog in the first year of life are also more likely to have healthy lungs and be better able to fight off respiratory infections, compared with kids who don’t live with a pet. Kids who lived with a dog from age 0 to 1 had 31% fewer respiratory infections and 44% fewer ear infections than kids who didn’t live with a dog.

Walking a dog or running in the yard and throwing a ball are wonderful ways to exercise the family dog and get the kids up and moving. Small motor skills can be encouraged by allowing children to pour water into dishes and scoop food, and by helping to groom the dog. Depending on the child’s age, parental supervision is recommended for both the child’s and the pet’s safety. No matter how you look at it, having a dog means a healthier life, for kids and adults alike, so if your child is a couch potato, consider getting him or her a dog. Bringing a dog into the family is not a decision that should be made lightly, however. It first must be a commitment by the parents, not the child, as they will ultimately be responsible for the dog’s welfare. Once that commitment has been made, however, and the right dog has been found for your family, the joys and health benefits will last for many years to come.