Fido Can Improve Your Health & Well-Being
When my family adopted Amelia J Puppy Dog from the Boulder Humane Society in 2002, we had no idea how profoundly she would alter our lives for the better. Given that she was 9 months old when we got her, our new friend had lots of energy. In short order, Amelia was on a three-walk-a day plan. These walks provided me (and sometimes other family members) with about one hour of moderate-intensity exercise daily. That more than doubled the recommended minimum amount of 150 minutes weekly.
You might think that I am on the lunatic fringe of dog walking. Maybe so. But research shows that dog owners generally walk more that people who don’t own a dog. For example, a recent review of 29 studies from the US and Australia found that about 60 percent of dog owners walked their dogs for a median duration of 160 minutes over four walks per week. Dog owners walked more than non-dog owners.
British researchers found that dog owners walked significantly longer and took more steps than non-dog owners. The differences translated into 23 more minutes and 2,762 more steps per day for the dog owners. Eighty-seven percent of the dog owners but only 47 percent of the non-dog owners met the recommended minimum weekly level of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical. The average dog owner walked the minimum recommended 10,000 steps per day, while the average non-dog owner did not. Dog walking can lead to a meaningful increase in physical activity.
Amelia introduced my family to many people in our extended neighborhood. A dog, especially one as cute as Amelia, provided an entrée to striking up a conversation with people we met while walking. Even if your dog is not as cute as Amelia, you’ll still meet lots of people. Having a dog will help you cultivate a network of social connections.
Another review concluded that pet ownership benefits humans. Evidence indicates that the companionship of pets can reduce stress and bolster emotional states, leading to reduced autonomic nervous system activity, better cardiovascular function and lower blood pressure.
Amelia is no longer with us, having passed into puppy dog heaven. But her legacy lives on. I still enjoy three walks a day as a delightful complement to my thrice-weekly trips to the gym for strength, flexibility, and balance training. I still visit with neighbors I never would have come to know if not for walking Amelia around our extended neighborhood for 14 years. My advice: get a dog and walk your dog a lot. Both you and your dog will be better off for it.