SATURDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Pregnant women who own a dog are 50 percent more likely to get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day by going for brisk walks, a new study finds.

Because walking is a low-risk exercise, walking a dog could be part of a wider strategy to combat obesity and improve the health of pregnant women, suggested the researchers at the University of Liverpool in the U.K.

The findings from their study of more than 11,000 pregnant women appear in the journal PLoS One.

"Although the higher physical activity levels of adult dog owners has already been demonstrated in the U.S. and Australia, this is the first study of its kind to examine whether the effects also apply to pregnant women. By not managing their weight and exercise, pregnant women risk unnecessary weight gain, as well as a difficult labor or weight problems for the child in later life," Dr. Carri Westgarth, from the university's Institute of Infection and Global Health, said in a university news release.

However, researchers found no association between the weight of pregnant dog owners and those without pets, suggesting that there is much more to maintaining weight than just walking a dog.

"Dog walking alone cannot reduce the numbers of obese pregnant women ... We also found that some pregnant women with dogs didn't go out walking," Westgarth said.

Healthy eating, along with other forms of exercise such as hiking or swimming, are also important in preventing women from gaining too much weight during pregnancy, researchers said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about exercise during pregnancy.