10 Reasons to Walk Your Dog

If you are fortunate enough to know a dog, then you already know that your life has been enriched forever. But did you also know that your health has been improved as well? Several studies have now documented that having “man’s best friend” around can be truly good for your overall health and well-being, especially if you commit to walking your dog daily.

So here are 10 good reasons, in descending order, to get out there and walk your dog every day.

10
You'll Burn Calories

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Walking is excellent moderate-intensity physical activity, and walking daily for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better) has been shown to help with weight loss as well as weight maintenance.

Walking your dog can help treat as well as prevent future obesity. Most studies have shown that people who care for pets tend to be more physically active, and, of all pets (horses and other equines not included here), dogs seem to encourage the greatest amount of physical activity. Anyone who has or has interacted with a dog can confirm this!

9
You'll Walk Longer

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One study from Canada found that dog caretakers walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with 168 minutes per week for those without a dog, and the dog caretakers noted the obligation to care for their dogs as being a key motivator driving this difference.

Other studies have looked at the change in human behavior after adopting a pet, and have found that people who adopted a dog from an animal shelter had a significant increase in their level of physical activity, mainly in the form of more frequent and longer recreational walks.

8
You'll Walk Faster

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Recent research has shown that people who walk with dogs actually walk faster than those walking alone without a dog. If you’ve ever had the experience of being walked by a dog, rather than the other way around, you know just how physically demanding this can be!

Brisk walking, in turn, offers even greater health benefits than walking slowly or just strolling along. Due to the greater physical effort required, walking faster will burn more calories than walking slower for the same period of time. Walking briskly will also tone and build lean muscle to a greater extent than slow walking, and increasing your lean muscle mass can, in turn, increase your basal metabolic rate. This will help you burn more calories not only during exercise but also while your body is at rest.

And in the elderly, studies have found that walking speed is a predictor of both quality of life and overall longevity. So the faster you walk, the longer you live!

7
You'll Lose Weight

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This goes along with #10 above, but there is more to it than that. Several studies have shown that having pets can play an important role in both preventing and treating obesity. Companion animals can provide encouragement and motivation to complete a weight loss program, for instance. And having a dog at one’s side can help with concerns over neighborhood safety that might otherwise prevent a daily walk.

Other studies have shown that dog walking in particular seems to be associated with a lower incidence of obesity. In one large study, dog walkers were far more likely to meet the national recommendations for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity than those who did not walk their dog or did not have a dog at all. And this results in lower body mass index (BMI), with lower rates of overweight and obesity, for dog walkers. Other studies have found that when people with dogs start walking with their pet, both the dog and the “dog parent” lose weight!

6
You'll Meet Your Physical Activity Goals

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As noted above, dog walkers are much more likely to meet national guidelines for daily physical activity. This includes a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week. This can translate into 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five times per week, for instance.

5
You'll Lower Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

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Daily walking has been shown in multiple studies to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Walking with your dog takes this even further. In fact, in 2013, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a scientific statement delineating the many cardiovascular benefits of having a pet. These include maintenance of heart health as well as reduction of risk factors that result in cardiovascular disease.

4
You'll Improve Your Cholesterol

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Studies that have looked at cholesterol levels in people who have dogs as pets have found that dog caretakers have more favorable cholesterol profiles than those who do not have a dog. Interestingly, research has also found that people who do not have a dog are more likely to use tobacco products (including smoking cigarettes) than are those who do have a dog—and quitting smoking is known to improve levels of good (HDL) cholesterol.

3
You'll Be Less Stressed

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Not only have several studies shown that having a pet can result in lower blood pressure, but still more studies have found that having a pet reduces reactivity to stress and that people with pets (including cats, dogs, and even fish, goats, chimpanzees and snakes) have lower resting heart rates and blood pressure at baseline, indicating a more relaxed baseline state.

Being less stressed, in turn, makes you less likely to become overweight or obese, because chronic stress has been linked to weight gain and a host of other disorders, including insomnia, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation.

2
You'll Be More Likely to Survive a Heart Attack

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Due to all of the above and more, having a dog even seems to be of benefit to those who already have heart disease. In one study, having a dog was strongly linked to decreased mortality from heart disease, showing that a person who has a dog is four times more likely to survive a heart attack over the long run than one who does not have a dog!

1
Your Dog Will Love You for It

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And, really, what could be better than that?

Sources

Brown SG, Rhodes RE. Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking in Western Canadian adults. Am J Prev Med 2006;30:131-36.

Cutt HE, Knuiman MW, Giles-Corti B. Does getting a dog increase recreational walking? Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 2008;5:17.

Coleman KJ, Rosenberg DE, Conway TL, Sallis JF, et al. Physical activity, weight status, and neighborhood characteristics of dog walkers. Prev Med 2008;47:309-12.

Levine GN, Allen K, Braun LT, Christian HE, et al. Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. Published online May 9, 2013.

Friedmann E, Thomas SA. Pet ownership, social support, and one-year survival after acute myocardial infarction in the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST). Am J Cardiol 1995;76:1213-17.

Friedmann E, Katcher AH, Lynch JJ, Thomas SA. Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit. Public Health Rep 1980;95:307-12.

Villareal DT, Chode S, Parimi N, et al. Weight loss, exercise, or both and physical function in obese older adults. N Engl J Med 2011;364:1218-1229.

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