Want to Get More Active? Walk Your Dog!



Contributed by Dr. David Geier

May is National Physical Activity Month and what better way to celebrate being active than to walk your dog. He’ll appreciate it just as much as you will. Obviously strenuous exercise, such as running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise, and sports are are excellent ways to achieve health and meet the activity standards established by the Department of Health and Human Services. But finding simple ways for children and adults to integrate activity into their normal activities might be the best way to get people moving.

A new study published in the March issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health suggests a potentially great idea for all Americans to become more active. The study, presented by Matthew J. Reeves et al., looks at whether owning a dog and walking the dog are associated with increased physical activity. They gathered data from the 2005 Michigan Behavioral Risk Factor Survey to try to determine if a relationship existed between owning a dog and physical activity.

The authors found that people who own a dog are more active overall and walk more. Dog owners who take their dogs for walks on average walk about one hour more per week than the one-third of dog owners who don’t walk their dogs. Interestingly they also found that younger Americans and the elderly walked their dogs the most and that people with large dogs (weighing over 45 pounds) walked longer than owners of smaller dogs. Finally the study seems to suggest that the benefits of owning a dog, as it pertains to physical activity, may actually be more than just the actual walking, as dog owners seem to be more physically active than non-dog owners in general.

When I heard about this study, I was not terribly surprised. I always like to find easy ideas to stimulate physical activity. For instance, I think it is helpful to take the stairs instead of an elevator when possible. Also, parking at the end of the parking lot away from stores and businesses forces people to walk a little bit more with their normal activities. Owning a dog and walking it are more examples of easy changes to implement.

What this study does not address, but most dog owners will tell you, is that the benefits of having a dog are not just seen with physical activity. Most of my friends who have a dog point out the happiness that comes when their dogs greet them when they get home from work or school. They also love taking their dogs to the park and the beach. So to everyone out there who owns a dog – get outside and walk with your four-legged friend. It just might improve your health too.

What are some other ways to get more active with your four-legged friend?