Many long-time dog owners know the benefits of having such a close, furry friend. Several clinical studies prove that pets have a positive impact on general mental well-being, helping with stress through mood-boosting, and through touch by helping lower blood pressure. Dogs and cats also help with sick patients in hospitals by improving their over-all sense of happiness.
But, dog owners have a special perk - simply having a pooch means the responsibility of making sure they have adequate exercise. With a society that is becoming increasingly sedentary because of long commutes followed by long days at a desk, walking Fido every day may very well save your life.
Let's start with a few facts. There are many of us who spend 7-9+ hours a day working at a desk and perhaps another 30 min - 1hr (or more!) commuting. There are plenty of sources online that tell us this is bad, but why exactly? Muscles need to be used regularly to maintain flexibility and strength. If unused, they can can atrophy. Additional pressure to the muscles on the back of your thighs (hamstrings) can affect your circulation significantly and cause leg pain. If they feel tight after a day of sitting, that's your bodies way of telling you that you need to stretch. You need to move. You need to do squats and lunges at work (like we do!).
The journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, published a public physical activity and public health report in 2007, after consulting an expert panel of physicians and exercise scientists. They concluded that 30 minutes of exercise a day would be the most beneficial. To many of us, that might seem like a lot of time to dedicate, but considering the increasing epidemic of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, it's time we must take.
In the April 2005 issue of Diabetes Care, The National Public Health Institute in Finland reported that moderate physical exercise, like walking every day for 30 minutes, significantly reduced the risk of heart disease by 39%. Those who were more active reduced the risk by 48% and benefits were the same for both women and men.
Such exercise was also proven to reduce heart disease risk factors even more than drugs. Another study, conducted by the U.S National Institute of Health's Diabetes Prevention Program, determined that those who were high risk for developing heart disease or diabetes (either due to genetic disposition or because of their lifestyles) who included 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, like walking, their risk was lowered more than taking the drug Metformin! On-top of that, the good cholesterol, HDL (as found in eggs) rose significantly while the bad kind, LDL, dropped. High blood pressure also reduced significantly.
But health isn't all about how fit you are. Overall wellness also includes mental and emotional health, too. Research indicates that improved mental, social and physical health are associated with the presence of greenery and being outdoors (the CFLRI 2011 Series on Outdoor Activity).
That's where Fido comes in.
Big dog, small dog, lazy-attitude dog or hyper-all-over-the-place dog - they all need exercise. And unless they're outdoor dogs and can run around and entertain themselves all day while you're away, those 30 minutes can take care of two tasks at once. We'd say "kill two birds with one stone" but that doesn't sit too well with us ;).
And keep in mind that the risks we expose ourselves to by not being mobile applies to our pets, too. They need it just as much as we do for their own health. Their muscles can also degrade if not used, their cardiovascular health can diminish and this puts them at increased risk for disease.
It doesn't have to be a chore, either. Allow yourself to enjoy the scenery, take deep and long breaths of fresh air and enjoy the mental downtime you have. You can make it a social event, too. Bring a family member or friend to maintain those bonds or create new ones by meeting new friends in a dog park or trail. There's no doubt about it. The benefits to being outside with your pooch might very well help manage your stress levels and improve your over-all well being.
So go ahead, jingle that leash. You know what happens next.