Regular exercise with your dog is good for both your health and your dog’s health and can be great fun. Owning a dog in and of itself is healthy for a variety of reasons– a big one being their need for activity. There’s nothing like an enthusiastic exercise partner who’s waiting by the door with a wagging tail to keep you motivated! If you want to take it a notch further, you can read our list of the Top 10 Fittest Dog Breeds.
Motivation: Dog owners who walk their dogs get more total physical activity, on average, than those who don’t. We all know that many people are better about making doctor’s appointments or cooking healthy meals for a loved one than for themselves… In a similar fashion, some find that going for regular walks is easier when done for the sake of their beloved furry friend. It doesn’t hurt that most dogs LOVE walks and will remind you by (not-so-subtly) standing by the door in anticipation of their favorite activity- motivating you to get it done.
Cardiovascular Health: In 2013, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement, which says: “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with decreased [cardiovascular disease] risk.” That includes a lower risk for stroke, a leading cause of disabling brain injury.
Lower Blood Pressure: Research has shown that petting a dog for just 15 minutes can lower blood pressure by 10%. An Australian study of 5741 participants attending a free screening clinic found that pet owners had significantly lower systolic blood pressures than pet non-owners despite similar body mass index (BMI) and socioeconomic profiles. In another study of 240 married couples with or without pets, both systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly lower in participants with a pet than in those without a pet.
Stronger Leg Muscles and Joints:
Walking is simply a ‘repeated gait cycle’ consisting of two phases: a stance phase (60%) and a swing phase (40%). Both phases involve every single muscle of the legs which is great for strengthening and balance. In addition, while the majority of joint cartilage has no direct blood supply, weight bearing activities such as walking compresses the cartilage with synovial fluid, bringing oxygen and nutrients into the area.
Bones, like muscles, respond to weight-bearing exercise by strengthening and becoming denser. This is especially useful in those over the age of fifty when bone mass starts to diminish. Intrinsically, walking can help prevent fall-related fractures and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Coupled with the added benefits of improved muscle strength, coordination and balance, it starts to become clear just how effective something as simple as walking can be throughout ones life.
Stroking and patting a pet can reduce the physiological indicators of stress, including high blood pressure. Research has shown that being around a dog can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and lessen other physiological stress responses. The effect is so strong that service dogs are sometimes used to help war veterans manage PTSD(link is external). Know what else is a proven stress reliever? Physical activity.
When you combine these two things in dog walking, you’ve got a double-strength stress remedy.
Communing with Nature: When you walk with you’re dog, you have to go outdoors, and you may start spending more time in fresh air at parks and on trails. Studies show that getting out into nature can help restore your attention, it can also increase your sense of well-being, especially if you disconnect and enjoy the beauty around you. You can read more about the health benefits of relaxing in nature in our article here.
Companionship and Bonding:
The strength of the dog–owner relationship is known to be correlated with dog walking, and this qualitative study investigated why. While the owners centered their reasoning for the walks as “for the dog,” the study found that their mood greatly benefitted from them as well- as long as they felt like the dog was having a good time. Owners reported deriving positive outcomes from dog walking, most notably, feelings of “happiness”, but these were “contingent” on the perception that their dogs were enjoying the experience. A separate study found that older adults who walk their dog the most are those who have a stronger bond with their pet.
Walking your dog in your neighborhood is a great way to meet neighbors! People who walk their dogs are seen by other people as friendly and approachable. Not only that, but studies have shown strategies that emphasize the value of dog walking for both dogs and people, promote the context-dependent repetition of dog walking, enhance the social-interaction benefits, encourage family dog walking, and ensure availability of public space for dog walking may encourage increased dog walking.
In another study of more than 800 people over 50, those who walked a dog at least 4 times a week were more likely to report feeling a strong sense of community, compared to people who didn’t own a dog. They were also more likely to spend at least 150 minutes per week walking in their neighborhood. So take the whole family out on a walk with Fido for some human bonding time!
Mental Health: Spending time on walks with your dog can reduce depression and anxiety. Studies show that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and improve your all-around health. There are many studies that show just playing with dogs elevates oxytocin and dopamine in our brains, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.