Walk Your Dog to Lose Weight and Reach 10,000 Steps a Day

Dog walkers are more likely to reach their step goal and burn more calories

People walking with dogs
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Don't want to spend money on a diet program? Take over the family dog walking duties and you may see weight loss that rivals what you could achieve through a program. Walking the dog 20 minutes a day, five days a week produced an average weight loss of 14 pounds for participants in a year-long University of Missouri-Columbia study. Another study found that dog walkers averaged 20 more minutes per day of walking and were more likely to meet health guidelines for moderate-intensity exercise, achieving a pedometer goal of 10,000 steps per day.

Lose Weight Walking Your Dog 20 Minutes a Day

The University of Missouri-Columbia study participants were economically disadvantaged and disabled people who were not regular walkers. They began by walking loaner dogs 10 minutes per day, three times each week. Eventually, the participants walked up to 20 minutes per day, five times each week. Those who followed this program for 50 weeks lost an average of 14 pounds.

Sticking with it mattered—those who walked only 26 weeks didn't see significant weight loss."Even though we didn’t see a significant amount of weight loss in the group that walked for a shorter period of time, by the end of the study, all the participants were walking for longer periods of time and walking for daily errands instead of using some other type of transportation," said researcher Rebecca Johnson in a press release.

Dog Owners More Likely to Reach Moderate-Intensity Exercise Goals and 10,000 Steps a Day

A study of older adults in the United Kingdom found that the dog owners walked on average 20 minutes a day longer than those without dogs, and their walking was at a pace indicating moderate-intensity exercise.

That extra 20 minutes per day was the difference needed for them to regularly achieve the 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity recommended to reduce health risks. The non-dog owners did not meet this guideline. The dog owners averaged 10,000 steps per day in this study, while the non-dog owners averaged 7,200 steps.

Dogs Keep You Faithful to Exercise

Walking a dog can make the difference between getting out and walking and deciding to skip it for the day. The commitment to the dog enforces faithfulness to a simple exercise program. "Many of them told us that they didn’t necessarily walk in the study because they knew it was good for their health; they enjoyed walking because they knew it was good for the animals," said researcher Rebecca Johnson in a press release.

This commitment can be just what people need to get them to be more physically active. Unlike human walking companions, dogs won't say they are too busy or giving other excuses. They are eager and happy to go for a walk, in all kinds of weather. That's the sort of consistency needed to maintain a new habit and to be able to achieve and sustain long term weight loss.

Effectiveness of Simple Walking for Weight Loss

Walking with a dog is often fairly slow strolling, and University of Missouri-Columbia study used participants who were new to walking for exercise. They were able to build up their exercise tolerance rather than being placed into a program of running or other higher intensity exercise. It is encouraging that good results were seen for those who stuck with the program for a year.

This is evidence that simply walking can be effective for making a lifestyle change and losing weight.

Beyond the 20 minutes the participants spent walking, they began adding more activity into their lives, according to the researchers. These extra steps beyond the 20 minutes of dog walking are probably a large factor in their continued weight loss. Some adopted dogs themselves or began volunteering to walk dogs at the local dog shelter.

A Word From Verywell

Walking your dog is good for both you and your dog. You both will be more likely to get the exercise you need to reduce health risks and help keep off extra pounds.

If you are already walking your dog regularly, consider increasing your walking time and pace a little more each week towards a goal of 30 minutes per day at a brisk walking pace.

Sources:

Dall PM, Ellis SLH, Ellis BM, et al. The influence of dog ownership on objective measures of free-living physical activity and sedentary behaviour in community-dwelling older adults: a longitudinal case-controlled study. BMC Public Health. 2017;17(1). doi:10.1186/s12889-017-4422-5.

Johnson RA, Meadows RL. "Dog-walking: motivation for adherence to a walking program." Clin Nurs Res. 2010 Nov;19(4):387-402. doi: 10.1177/1054773810373122. Epub 2010 Jul 22.

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