I think we all know, deep inside, that we should be doing more exercise. The NHS recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, but 40% of people are failing to meet that target. Activity is essential to prevent obesity, heart disease and other chronic illnesses, as well as to improve our mental health. But for those of us with dogs, does walking them count towards this goal?
The answer is yes. If you’re one of the 5.4 million dog-owning households that walks their pet, the chances are you’ll do more exercise than those that don’t, and that can make a big difference. Light activity such as dog walking has been shown to be beneficial and counts towards your exercise goals.
In addition, owning (and walking) a dog provides a purpose and motivation to exercise. Unlike get-fit-quick regimes and cheap deals at the gym, dog ownership is long-lasting and encourages an exercise regime that will last years.
Unfortunately, only 60% of dog owners walk their pets, and dogs on average get only four walks a week. Those that own dogs but don’t walk them don’t get as many of the health benefits associated with dog ownership as those that commit to regular walking. So if you’re guilty of rarely walking your dog or, worse still, not walking him at all- why not?
Health benefits of dog walking
There are lots of proven health benefits associated with owning a dog, and many of these can be put down to the exercise encouraged by dog ownership. Dog owners have been found to have a greater likelihood of surviving a heart attack, have lower cholesterol levels, and have lower blood pressure. Dog owners even visit their doctor less often than non-dog owners!
Lots of other studies say that dog owners spend more time walking, doing leisure activities, and talking to others. Dog owners are a chatty bunch, and those that get out and walk their dogs experience more social contact than non-dog owners. They’ve even shown a benefit in the older community, who reported more general functional ability alongside the increased exercise benefits.
One study showed that dog walkers are also 69% more likely to undertake physical activity in their leisure time. This means that, even after the pooch has been walked, dog owners are more likely to do other exercise activities, whether that’s cycling, a gym class or a game of tennis. This means, as a whole, the dog-walking group are twice as likely to meet the physical exercise targets.
Dog owners have also been shown to spend more time in natural open spaces like parks and gardens. This is thought to be good for our mental health.
Don’t Forget The Dog!
With over 50% of dogs in the UK classified as overweight or obese, a daily walk is also essential exercise for your dog. Just like us, when are dogs are overweight it leads to an increased risk of arthritis, certain cancers, and changes in heart function. A regular exercise regime that includes a brisk daily walk is one of the best ways to ensure your dog stays fit and at a healthy weight.
A gentle walk, with time to sniff and smell, is also important for our dog’s mental wellbeing. These behaviours are essential to being a dog, and it’s important to allow your dog to experience them. Dogs that go to the park, play ball and go home again are often missing out on this important part of their natural behaviour.
Other exercise you can do with your dog…
So the bottom line is that more people should be encouraged to exercise with their pets. It’s better for their health and for their dog’s health. A daily walk really is enough, but if walking isn’t for you there are other things you can do together. If you have a young, fit dog a jog or a cycle ride might be more appropriate. A swim can be perfect, too, and especially good for older dogs or humans with sore joints.
Although agility is primarily exercise for the dog, any good trainer will tell you that you’ll do plenty of running around yourself. There’s even ‘doga’, a dog-owner yoga experience, and with all this choice there’s really no excuse not to do more exercise.
Walk That Pooch
So you’ve decided to make a change? Great! If you can, aim for at least 20 minutes twice daily, but remember to tailor your walks to your dog. Active dogs would appreciate more, and older dogs might need less! Don’t just take the ball thrower or frisbee- although it’s a good way to tire out your dog, the idea is to exercise together.
Find a dog-friendly park to walk around or see if there are any recommended routes near you. There are websites that list them, map them, and rate them, so it’s not hard to find new routes. Why not get a fitness tracker- for one or even both of you- so you can see how far you’ve gone and how many steps each of you has done? They also record exercise minutes, meaning you can see if your walks are helping you reach that weekly target. Lastly, please don’t forget to make sure you take some water for both you and pooch and save your walks for the cool, light evenings.