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- Dogs encourage regular walks, benefiting both physical and mental health. Their presence motivates owners to engage in physical activity, burning calories and toning muscles. Dog walking involves arm, leg, and foot movements, providing a cardio workout.
- Dogs provide emotional support, reducing stress and loneliness while boosting self-esteem.
- Moving on to more intense exercise, activities like hiking, rollerblading, and gym workouts can be enjoyed with dogs. Even ordinary play activities such as fetch can be transformed into a workout routine by incorporating other exercises into it.
Research from Harvard Health suggests that dog owners experience lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure, indicating improved heart health. Upon hearing that, you might be asking: how can dogs keep you fit and healthy? Well aside from being the ultimate exercise buddies, owning a dog also gives you immense emotional support, reducing stress, loneliness, and boosting self-esteem. I know I can attest to that with 100 percent certainty.
Other pet owners probably enjoy similar benefits, I’m sure, but dog owners are simply blessed with an intense presence that fosters a sense of purpose and companionship, which is pivotal to our mental well-being. This is what every fitness endeavor anchored around dog ownership is predicated on. If you’re interested in learning how you can be both a better dog owner and a more fit and healthy individual, keep reading.
Study shows dogs can keep you energized and vitalized.
An Australian researcher recently announced that pet ownership can save billions in health spending because pets help reduce blood pressure and risk of heart disease while connecting their owners to the community and increasing a sense of well-being. Just think, how often do you walk your dog? Then you’ll have a clue on how Fido helps you get fit yourself.
“Research shows pet owners have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, are less depressed, and have lower risk of heart disease” said University of Queensland psychologist Maggie O’Haire in a June article for The Courier-Mail in Australia. “They feel less lonely than non-pet owners and actually find it easier to get to know people.” 
Furthermore, O’Haire said less is known about how animals affect children, but she is studying what pets can do for children with autism spectrum disorder or Asperger syndrome.
Here’s another health and wellness benefits of having dogs: Did you know that a dog can help you through a breakup?
A Southern California therapy dog volunteer agrees with the Australian study.
“It’s a fact that’s medically proven that dogs can lower blood pressure,” said Linda Randall, who has worked with therapy dogs for nearly 10 years and is a member of Therapy Dogs of Southern California.
The organization claims petting a dog will calm a person’s heart rate and lower blood pressure. Studies also indicate petting a dog prompts the human brain to release endorphins that block pain.
Randall has seen how her Irish Wolfhounds and Afghan Hound uplift the moods of traumatized patients.
Dogs Aid in Therapy
Three years ago, Randall visited a young woman who was assaulted and wouldn’t talk to anyone. But when the woman saw Randall’s dogs, she burst into tears and began talking to the dogs.
In another incident, a catatonic woman who wouldn’t speak, said, “Oh look a dog!” when she spotted the therapy dogs, Randall said. The dogs also comforted a boy who was suffering from burns.
Randall’s dogs also helped a stroke patient with his recovery, Randall said. The man suffered the stroke in 2003 and had his left arm paralyzed with his palm up. The patient also lost hope after the stroke.
“He was ready to die then when he saw the dog he took his paralyzed hand and turned it the right way to pet the dog,” Randall said the patient did this while trying to stand up and even tried even to step off his wheelchair.
Randall’s dogs followed the patient for three years as he regained his speech and began walking with a cane.
She explained how dogs boost emotional and mental well-being.
“Dogs feel emotions of people and react to it,” Randall said. “They see you’re sad, even lonely and they will cuddle into you. You and I wouldn’t do that, especially to somebody we’ve never met. Dogs are not afraid to show emotion, they’re not afraid to comfort.”
In everyday life, canine companions get their senior citizen owners to exercise by urging them to walk, according to a 2008 article in Senior Journal. Dogs can also soothe senior citizens who feel unsafe or vulnerable from living alone, according to the article.
One great thing about therapy dogs is that unlike service dogs, any dog can be trained to become a therapy dog. They just have to have a positive attitude around people, and towards life in general. If your dog already loves being around people and spreading cheer, it’ll likely take only a few therapy dog classes to transform him or her into a full-fledged therapy dog.
Check our guide on how to make traveling with your dog easier.
Dogs can help smokers quit
Pets can even persuade their owners to quit smoking, according to a February article from U.S. News & World Report. The article cited a survey of smokers conducted by the Henry Ford Health System Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
One in three smokers responded they would kick their habits knowing that second-hand smoke can harm their pet’s health.
Randall said she has benefited from owning dogs.
“They’re my ‘family,’” she said. “I know they’re dogs first, but I also call them ‘the kids.’”
How You And Your Dog Can Work Together Towards a Healthy Lifestyle
Taking Regular Walks
Your fitness journey with your dog starts with taking a walk. But not just any walk – well, scratch that. It would be just like any walk you’ve always had together, but you’ll have to do it every day, or at least as regularly as you can manage. Owning a dog means you need to take them on regular walks to maintain their physical and mental health anyway, and so it’s every dog owner’s responsibility to see to it that dog walking is done as many times a week as their dog needs.
When dogs step outside, they enter their natural habitat, where they can explore enticing scents, engage in playful endeavors, and freely relieve themselves wherever they please (as long as you’re there to pick it up after!). Studies have proven that the regular experience of this is instrumental in preventing dementia and other mental illnesses, as well as a range of physical defects in old age.
The best part about this is your dog is always there to remind you to take a walk on a regular basis. Every time that wet nose presses against your hand, you’re compelled to be a good dog owner and take your dog to the local dog park instead of being a couch potato. Your dog becomes a constant source of motivation, ensuring your year-round physical activity.
Whenever your dog gives you that wet-nosed nudge towards a more active lifestyle, your day gets rounded out with a good dose of physical activity, burning off all those extra calories you’ve packed on and then some, as well as toning your muscles a decent amount. That’s because depending on how hyperactive your dog is, dog walking may not, in fact, just be a walk in the park.
Dog owners who take their dogs on a walk will find themselves making a lot of use of their arms for holding and pulling the leash, as well as carrying doggy treats and other gear. They’ll also make a lot of use of their legs and feet for chasing their dog, bracing against those playful hug-tackles they love to do when overexcited. On top of all of those health benefits, you also get a ton of cardio in.
All of this exertion is great for conditioning both of you to transition to more strenuous activities together.
Moving on to More Serious Exercise
Hiking, watching fish swim in the ocean, and even rollerblading are all exhilarating activities that dog owners can share with their canine companion. Exercising becomes immensely appealing when you have a wiggling, wagging dog eagerly standing by the door, leash in mouth, ready for the adventure.
Not to mention that more intense physical activity is sure to strengthen your bond with your dog even more, leading to even better mental health for the both of you.
You can even bring your dog to the gym. Plenty of gyms these days have some sort of policy allowing pets under certain conditions. Some of them even have specialized dog equipment or entire dog gyms, so your dog can get a fun and thorough workout alongside you.
But even if letting your dog tag along when you do this sort of thing sounds a tad too inconvenient for you, you can still ramp up your physical activity in other ways. One such way is by transforming the classic game of fetch into a more intense and engaging workout.
While your dog fetches the ball or toy, take advantage of the opportunity to incorporate your own exercises, such as squats, lunges, jumping jacks, crunches, and planks. You can further enhance your routine with dynamic warm-ups, core workouts, weight-bearing exercises, aerobic exercises, and even a mix and match of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). As fitness expert Detterbeck suggests, you can add an extra element by sprinting alongside your dog, turning the game into a thrilling race for the ball or toy.
If that sounds a little silly to you, or you want to have a bit more of an equal workout with your dog, you can also run an obstacle course together, and incorporate it with fetch and other playtime activities.
But why stop at fetch? Another exciting option to explore is playing tag. Who doesn’t enjoy a good game of tag? Detterbeck himself highlights the joy of playing tag with his dog in the yard, combining running and bonding into one exhilarating experience. Start by allowing your dog to chase you, and after a brief moment of rest, take your turn and chase after your furry companion.
Even something as simple as going on extended jogs with your furry friend would do wonders for both of your long-term fitness goals.
Well-behaved dogs not only contribute to a more pleasant atmosphere but also make outings effortless and enjoyable. Dedicate some time and energy to training your dog—it will not only benefit their mental and physical well-being but also enhance your own fitness journey.