Article written by John Woods, founder of All Things Dogs. John Woods is a graduate in animal welfare and behavior, member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and a recognized author by the Dog Writers Association of America.
It should come as no surprise that our dogs need daily exercise in order to live their healthiest lives. But before you grab your dog’s favorite tennis ball and head for the backyard, think about picking up his leash and harness instead. Taking your dog for a walk is not only great for their well-being, it can be a part of your own healthy lifestyle!
In this article, we discuss four ways that walking your dog can benefit your own health. Whether you already take your dog for regular walks or are more limited to backyard exercise, you will want to know about these four benefits!
1. Improved cardiovascular health
It’s no secret that walking is a great way to get exercise, and your four-legged friend can make a fantastic training partner! Depending on your dog’s breed and energy level, they might even make a great jogging partner as you both improve your cardio levels.
According to the Cancer Nutrition Centers of America, dog owners are more likely to survive heart attacks than people who don’t own pets. Such generally improved health also reduced dog owners’ need to visit the doctor’s office by up to 20 percent.
When you’re taking your dog for a walk, their breed, age, and outside temperature are all things you should consider before setting out. A young border collie, for example, will be able to walk for much longer than a senior pug. Brachycephalic dogs, such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs, often have breathing problems and struggle to exercise for a sustained period.
If you own one of these flat-faced breeds, consider taking multiple shorter walks throughout the day instead of one long walk. Make sure you don’t do too much too fast, especially in warm temperatures. Start slow, and work up to daily 30-60 minute walks. As the two of you progress, you’ll find that you’ll be able to walk for longer without getting as winded.
2. Lower stress levels
Especially in the age of the coronavirus pandemic, many people are experiencing stress and anxiety on levels that are becoming more difficult to manage. Even without a leash in your hand and dog at your side, scientists have proven that physical exercise is an excellent way to reduce mental stress. Bringing your dog along can increase these benefits, too.
Regular walks with your dog will also help improve your bond. Studies have shown that bonding with pets triggers the secretion of oxytocin (also known as the “cuddle” hormone). Spending time outdoors is a great way to improve mental health, and what better way to get outside than to walk your dog? Both your pup and your anxiety will thank you for incorporating walks into your routine.
3. Getting social
You are more likely to interact with other people on a walk when you have your dog with you, and you might be surprised what regular social interaction can do to combat feelings of anxiety and depression. Especially during this time of isolation and quarantine, it’s more important than ever to maintain social relationships in the safest ways that we can.
One of these ways is by getting out of the house with your dog. Your pooch probably doesn’t know what a great conversation-starter he is, but neighbors and strangers are more likely to approach and greet you when you’re walking your dog. Taking a stroll with your pup is a great opportunity to get off your phone and enjoy the outdoors, other humans, and of course, your dog!
4. Can help you lose weight
With gyms and fitness centers closed across the country, your exercise routine may have taken a major blow. But regularly walking your dog is one of the easiest, and most accessible, ways to stay fit. Studies confirm that dog owners get more exercise than people without pets. If you’re in a living situation where you can’t own your own dog, see if you can borrow a friend’s or neighbor’s pooch for a walk!
“They help themselves by helping the dog,” Dr. Rebecca Johnson, co-author of the book Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, told the New York Times. “If we’re committed to a dog, it enables us to commit to physical activity ourselves.”
Another way to enjoy the health benefits of dog walking even if you don’t have a dog of your own is to volunteer at your local animal shelter. Rescue pups love going for walks just as much as any other dog, and you can work on shedding pounds while feeling great about having done a good deed for these pups in need.
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