By: Cate Burnette
January is Walk Your Pet Month
Having trouble sticking to an exercise program? Research shows that dogs are actually nature’s perfect personal trainers—loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. And, unlike your friends, who may skip an exercise session because of laziness, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to forego exercising.
Is Dog Walking Really Effective Exercise?
Obesity is a global epidemic, affecting about one in every three to four adults in the United States and Europe. Dog ownership and obesity were evaluated in Seattle and Baltimore in a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in September 2008. Dog owners who reported walking their dogs were almost 25 percent less likely to be obese than people without dogs. Researchers in the April 2008 issue of the Australian Health Promotion Journal reported that having a dog in the house reduced the risk of childhood obesity by half.
7 Health Benefits For Your Dog
The benefits of daily walks for your pooch are similar to those you’ll see for yourself.
Regular exercise keeps your pet’s joints and muscles agile and limber.
1. Walking daily will help your dog maintain a healthy weight by increasing the body’s metabolism. Heavier animals can lose those extra pounds weighing them down while eating a reduced-calorie diet.
2. Regular walks keep your pet’s digestive system moving and helps to relieve constipation.
3. Exercise can help to reduce destructive behavior, such as chewing, digging or scratching.
4. Walks help your pet rest better by decreasing excess energy and hyperactivity, alleviating stress, and helping your dog feel more relaxed and sleepy.
5. Your dog can learn to socialize with other animals and people while walking on a leash and behaving appropriately.
6. Pets often want your undivided attention. Walking with you allows for bonding and training time with your dog and helps build a good relationship between the two of you.
7. A timid or fearful dog can gain confidence by taking regular walks in and around unfamiliar areas, people and other animals.
Benefits of Walking for You
The health benefits of exercise and walking, in particular, for humans are well documented. Besides the obvious advantages of weight loss and/or maintenance, the human body responds to physical activity much as does the canine body. Your cardiac, respiratory, circulatory, skeletal and gastrointestinal systems function more effectively and basal metabolism, the chemical process that burns fat and calories, speeds up. However, physicians and scientists are documenting other, lesser-known benefits to exercise that improve both physical and mental health.
In her 2006 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, Dr. Joanna Kruk determined that regular, moderately intense exercise reduces the risk of serious health problems by significant amounts. According to Dr. Kruk, research shows that
- Breast cancer risk reduced by 75 percent.
- Heart disease risk decreased by 49 percent.
- Diabetes risk lowered by 35 percent.
- Colon cancer risk decreased by 22 percent.
An article in Psychology Today magazine points out that walking your dog provides you with psychological benefits, as well as the noted physical ones. Physical activity improves your emotional well-being by increasing your exercise motivation, managing your stress levels, allowing you to center yourself and connect with nature, and decreasing loneliness by providing you with a walking buddy. Additionally, dog walking gives you a great excuse to explore your community and strike up a conversation with neighbors and others walking their own dogs.
How Much Exercise is Enough for You and Your Dog?
According to the World Health Organization, adequate exercise for you to promote good health includes:
- 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily for children 5 to 17 years old.
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week for adults 18 to 65 years old, plus strengthening exercises two days per week.
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week, with modifications as needed in seniors over 65 years old, plus flexibility and balance exercises.
Physiology researchers have found that seven in every 10 adult dog owners achieved 150 minutes of physical exercise per week, compared with only four in every 10 non-owners. Among new dog owners monitored for one year, recreational walking increased by an average of 48 minutes per week. And, among people who read dog magazines, six in every 10 walked their dogs every day.
How much exercise is enough for your dog depends on your pup’s age, breed and health. A terrier puppy is going to need more physical activity than an older Greyhound. A sight hound needs short bursts of exercise; guarding dogs don’t need as much overall as sporting breeds that like to hunt all day. An energetic Labrador retriever could easily need more exercise than a dog of the same breed that is calmer and more laid back. Senior dogs still need their walks – just shorter and slower ones than they used to enjoy.
Most veterinarians will tell you that dogs need 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. You should walk your dog for long enough so that when you’re ready to stop, your pup is starting to slow down. Some general exercise guidelines provided by DogTime.com include:
- Active breeds need a minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week, preferably daily.
- Not all toy or small breeds get enough exercise inside the house (contrary to popular belief). Pugs, for example, are prone to obesity and need much more exercise than they usually get.
- It’s not safe to go out in extremely hot or cold weather. During such periods, stay inside and teach tricks or play games to engage your dog’s mind, throw toys, or run up and down the stairs together.
- Good exercise uses both mental and physical muscles. Exploring a new hiking trail, for example, engages your dog’s mind as well as his body.
- Live by the philosophy that a tired dog is a good dog.
Plan for Success
You can set up your canine-friendly exercise program and plan ahead for success by adhering to the following guidelines:
- Establish a daily walking schedule. Plan to walk at least a total of 30 minutes per day. This might include three 10-minute walks throughout the day, 10 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon, or 30 minutes all at one time in the evening. Find a schedule that works for you and your pup and stick with it.
- Bring your pooch along regularly on your walks. Planning a program for your canine companion helps you to be more responsible for the health of both you and your dog. Additionally, once your pooch becomes used to the routine, you’ll be reminded daily when “it’s time!”
- Track your progress by downloading a walking calendar here. Post your calendar where you can see it and make a note for each 10 minutes you walk each day. Seeing your routine in writing will make you more accountable and reinforce your good behavior.
So, are you ready to get out of your house and start exercising with your four-legged friend? With at all the positive effects that can come from with it, you’ll never look at a walk with your dog the same way again!
Cate Burnette is a semi-retired registered veterinary technician with clinical experience in small and large animal medicine. With 30-plus years of journalism experience, she went back to school after 9/11 to work with her first love: animals. The pet parent of four cats, three dogs and one ex-racehorse, Cate is a certified rescue volunteer with the American Humane Association’s Red Star Emergency Services and served with the group in New Orleans doing animal search and rescue after Hurricane Katrina. She is also a horse safety and horse management expert, and has volunteered with US Pony Clubs as a district commissioner and horse management judge.