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Need to exercise? Walk a dog!

dog_walkingIn a 12-week study of 54 older adults at an assisted living home, 35 people were assigned to a walking program for five days a week, while the remaining 19 served as a control group. Among the walkers, 23 selected a friend or spouse to serve as a regular walking partner along a trail laid out near the home. Another 12 participants took a bus daily to a local animal shelter where they were assigned a dog to walk.

To the surprise of the researchers, the dog walkers showed a big improvement in fitness, while the human walkers began making excuses to skip the workout. Walking speed among the dog walkers increased by 28 percent, compared with just a 4 percent increase among the human walkers.

I’m surprised that the researchers were so surprised.  In my experience, most dogs like to exercise, and most people look for excuses to get out of exercising.  Whenever I go outside in crappy weather for a workout, it seems the only other people I see out there are women (usually women; what’s up with that?) walking or jogging with their dog.  Since I got a dog, I’ve gone out in crappier weather more often than I would have otherwise.

Let’s speculate about why dogs are so good for getting people to exercise.  Two reasons come immediately to mind: fun and responsibility.

First, if exercise isn’t fun for you, you’re not going to do it over the long term.  Willpower might work for a few weeks, but if you want to make exercise a permanent part of your life, you have to find some physical activity that you’ll do solely for the fun of it, and not for the exercise.

Dogs think exercise is fun.  Even when the weather’s bad.  So if you’re part of a dog/person team, then at least half of you will have fun every single time you go for a walk or run.

Second, exercising with a dog isn’t just about you.  It’s also about the dog, and if you’re lazy, the dog pays the price right along with you.  Dog walkers, then, can count on more than just willpower to get them outside.  Their sense of responsibility for their dog will get them off their lazy ass when willpower alone isn’t enough.

There are other reasons why a dog helps people to exercise — no one likes having a bored, agitated, underexercised dog chewing up their furniture.  But this study suggests that even if you’re in an assisted-living facility and the dog you walk lives in a shelter, you’ll still get a physical fitness benefit by hitching yourself up to a pooch.  Good dog!


  1. Nancy wrote:

    You are correct. I think I need a dog!

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink
  2. Carey wrote:

    Yeah! Cats don’t like a bored, underexercised dog hanging around either, which is another reason to exercise the pup.

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

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