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Features August 2019 Issue

Your Best Exercise Equipment: Your Dog

Evidence accumulates that dog ownership increases fitness for owners.

© Peter Kirillov | Bigstock

Having a dog makes you several times more likely to meet fitness goals.

We’re supposed to be engaging in at least 150 minutes (2˝ hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. And guess what? If you have a dog, you’re much more likely to reach that target without even trying.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Veterinary Science made the finding when they surveyed almost 700 people, some of them dog owners and some not.

The upshot: People with dogs were more than four times as likely to reach the 150-minute goal as their dog-less counterparts.

Dog owners actually spent an average of 222 minutes per week — almost four hours — walking their pets. Moreover, they did not appear to participate less in other forms of physical activity than their dog-less peers, meaning that dog walking did not replace other forms of activity but were folded into people’s lifestyles in addition to other types of exercise.

Children benefited, too. The average age of the children surveyed was 10, and those with dogs reported walking about an hour and 20 minutes longer for recreation each week than kids without dogs in the household. They tended to take their dogs for walks twice during the week and once on weekends.

Health benefits

With these findings, it is no wonder previous research has found that dog owners enjoy lower blood pressure than those who don’t have dogs — or that owning a pet can decrease mortality from heart disease by as much as 3 percent (which translates into tens of thousands of lives saved annually).

Benefits to mental health accrue as well. Research published in Environmental Science & Technology illustrates that physical activity undertaken outdoors in natural environments as opposed to, say, walking on an indoor track or treadmill, has a greater effect on mental well-being. And, as the Liverpool researchers point out, dog walking also “increases social capital through encouraging interactions in local communities.” Translation: You make more friends when you have a dog to walk.

None of this is to suggest that anyone should get a dog to get more exercise; people should get a dog if they want to share their life with one, not as a piece of gym equipment. But it does make an excellent case for getting out there with your pet every day rather than simply letting her into the yard.

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