Dogs: Your Better Fitness Companion

Author: Phil Gawlak, NASM-CPT, CES, GFS, FNS

Walking is one of the best exercise decisions you can make, but sometimes it can become difficult to follow through with your walking plan. Dog ownership can help you stay on course; dogs form a routine quickly and will insist you keep with it. As a dog owner you owe it to your pal to get him outside and spend time together. Your dog is a pack animal, and by default you are pack leader; your dog craves your attention, and they needs time with you in an active environment. Your dog will quickly pick up on a walk schedule and let you know when it’s time to go. They’ll hold you accountable and won’t give you an excuse to forego exercising. Dogs are loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic; they will never skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather.

Research shows that dogs are actually nature’s perfect training companions. “Across 9 published studies, almost 2 in 3 dog owners reported walking their dogs, and the walkers are more than 2.5 times more likely to achieve at least MIPA (Moderate-Intensity Physical Activity) defined as at least 150 mins/wk. These findings suggest that dog walking may be a viable strategy for dog owners to help achieve levels of Physical Activity that may enhance their health” (1).

A study of over 41,000 California residents looked at walking among dog owners as well as those who didn’t have pets. Dog owners were about 60 percent more likely to walk for leisure than people who owned a cat or no pet at all, equaling to about an extra 19 minutes a week of walking compared with people without dogs (2).

Dogs expend about 0.8 calories per pound per mile when walking at a pace of 15 to 16 minutes per mile. People tend to use about 0.73 calories per pound per mile, at a similar speed. This means a 150-pound person loses about 100 calories during a 1-mile walk while their 40-pound dog burns about 32 calories.

A study at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that having a pet can encourage owners to get more exercise, resulting in substantial weight loss. “The participants began the program by walking 10 minutes per day, three times each week. Eventually, the participants walked up to 20 minutes per day, five times each week. During rainy days, the participants walked an inside route.” The group averaged a loss of 14 pounds in 50 weeks (3).

It takes a deficit of 3500 calories to lose 1 pound of weight, so simply walking yourself to significant weight loss is difficult if not impossible. You must make nutritional choices that will help bolster your walking and exercise efforts. That said, the list of benefits you and your four-legged friend get from your daily walks is numerous, including but not limited to bonding time and improvements in cardiovascular health, bone and muscle health, mood, sleep, balance and coordination. Walking is key in prevention or management of various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

How much exercise is enough? According to the World Health Organization (4), adequate exercise 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
This walk is fitness based, so your pup won’t be stopping to smell bushes and fire hydrants; the goal is to be in constant motion. You will want to keep a good pace for the first part of your walk, allowing time only on the way home for stops to smell. Dogs are very scent based; their world is based off of smells, so it’s important to allow them to interact with their environment but not until after the workout. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors; your body and your dog will be eternally thankful.

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