by Beth McEwen
Dogs, not diamonds, are a girl’s best friend – especially when tapping into Fido’s seemingly endless energy as your new workout buddy. Studies have shown that canine owners are more likely to exercise regularly and be more fit and healthier than their pooch-free peers. Research from Michigan State University reports that people with canine companions are 34 percent more likely to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week than are folks with other pets (sorry, kitties) or none at all.
In fact, a 2005 study at the University of Missouri-Columbia encouraged participants to begin by walking 10 minutes a day, three times each week. Over time, they gradually increased to 20 minutes per day, five times each week. Researchers found that the study group not only averaged a weight loss of 14 pounds, but they also enjoyed the experience so much that they voluntarily continued to increase their exercise duration during the one-year program.
How does a dog do more for you than a treadmill?
When you interact with a dog, endorphins rise and stress levels fall. This emotional connection gives an extra boost to your workouts. A dog is always ready and willing to go. Unlike a neighbor or even your most reliable friend, your pooch never cancels on you at the last minute, complains about being tired or backs down from rain or snow. Dogs are creatures of habit – once Fifi gets the hang of your daily workout regime, she will persistently “remind” you that it’s time to go out and play.
Before starting a new workout regimen, be sure that both you and Fido are healthy enough to pursue
the activity of your choice. Short-nosed dogs (such as pugs) have a more difficult time breathing, and long-backed dogs (like dachshunds) are prone to back injuries, so choose your activity wisely. Since winter ice, snow and salt can be hard on your pooch’s feet, it may be wise to consider protective dog boots for your outdoor adventures. Limited daylight hours mean that you might be outside in low-light conditions. Reflective collars, vests and safety-lighted collars can help you and Fido be more visible to passing vehicles. While out and about, if your pup begins to act sore or lethargic, call it a day. It takes some time to build endurance, for both dogs and people.
Don’t have a dog? You can still get in some canine workouts by volunteering to run or walk a pound puppy at a local shelter or rescue. You will be helping increase the adoptability of a pooch in need, and you never know – you might just find your new best friend. Besides, when you consider that an energizer doggy can help you get fit, lose weight and have fun in the process, the potential for a chewed-up pair of cross-trainers becomes a worthy sacrifice.
Romp and Roam
There’s no need to limit yourself (and your pooch) to walks around the block or runs in the park. Dogs crave adventure, and many breeds are perfect hiking, biking, in-line skating or swimming buddies. A word of caution: be aware of local leash laws, and if your dog has a love of squirrel chases, practice in a varmint-free environment where you can sharpen training cues.
Michigan winters offer an excellent opportunity to explore other activities as well, both indoor and outdoor. Skijoring is a cross between cross country skiing and dog sledding and is well suited for Michigan’s many beautiful groomed trails (visit www.skijorusa.org to learn more). Are you looking for something a little less exposed to the elements? Explore dog agility, which is an obstacle course for your pooch that includes jumps, ramps, weaves, tunnels and more (check out the Grand Rapids Agility Club at www.gragility.org for details). As you run along directing your pup through the course, you will be building physical endurance as well as your relationship. Many dogs may even enjoy an occasional session of “doga,” or yoga for dogs (yes, it exists).