Putting a treadmill in the living room is one option to find the motivation you need to start being more active, but studies show there’s a different, fluffier, way to add more exercise to your life. Instead of at-home gym equipment, all you need is a dog. Countless studies report dog owners exercise more times a week than their non-dog-owning counterparts. In general, people that consider themselves pet parents are more active and at less risk of obesity than people who don’t come home to wagging tails and slobbery kisses. If you’ve ever met a dog, it’s not hard to figure out why. Between daily walks, training, bathroom breaks, and everything in between, having a dog is filled with opportunities for exercise.
Step by Step, Dog Owners Exercise More
Researchers from Michigan State University looked at how often dog owners exercise compared to people without dogs. After tracking the habits of 5,900 people—2,170 who owned dogs—they reported dog owners to exercise an average of 30 minutes per week more than people without dogs.
The definition of exercise doesn’t need to include running marathons or lifting heavy weights. For many, staying active is as simple as a ten-minute walk. Many of the dog owners in the MSU study got their exercise by walking or running, and others burned calories during long games of fetch. For some people, even getting up several times a day to let a dog outside or feed them a treat is movement they’d otherwise be missing out on. In addition to more steps taken and more miles walked, the study also found dog owners are more likely to participate in physical activities like sports and even gardening. Sometimes the dog is directly involved (anyone ever plays backyard football with a dog on your team?), and other times simply having a companion out in the yard is enough encouragement to stay off the couch and on your feet.
Fighting That Sedentary Lifestyle
Another study from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health made similar conclusions and went on to study how factors including weather, number of daylight hours, and other commitments affect exercise habits. The overall trend was that people were more likely to slip into a sedentary lifestyle when the weather was cold or wet and the days were short. Out of 3,100 total study subjects, 18% owned dogs. Researchers found that dog owners were less likely to let environmental factors and scheduling conflicts interfere with their regular exercise. In fact, they found dog owners exercise more on bad weather days than people without dogs do on the sunniest, best days.
Unlike human walking partners, dogs don’t care what time it is or what the weather channel predicts. They’re always ready to go, and they have a habit of getting their way. They’ll bark and misbehave if they don’t get their exercise, and that is usually enough to convince a person to lace up their shoes and grab their favorite dog harness and leash. It can be irritating, but that push is the key to why dog owners exercise more than they would if their life didn’t revolve around a fluffy, wet-nosed family member. That increased activity is a literal life-saver when it comes to fighting obesity and maintaining heart health.
Lace Up and Keep Up
Having a dog is an extra incentive to get up and move, but all dogs are different. Katrina Adams, 26, owns a one-year-old Border Collie mix named Pippa. With Pippa’s age and breed, she needs rigorous exercise every day to keep her happy and out of trouble. Katrina said,
“She [Pippa] is the most active breed on planet Earth. She literally cries and pants in circles if she can’t go to the park to play frisbee.”
Breeds like Border Collies, Labs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and German Shepherds are known for their athleticism and high energy. They need opportunities to run and play if their families want them to be happy, healthy, and well-behaved. People with these active dogs spend every day walking, running, and trying to keep up. Katrina and Pippa take daily trips to the park, and Katrina credits her high-energy dog for keeping her healthy and active.
There are other dog breeds, however, that don’t demand as much physical activity. Mary Schonour, 28, shares her life with a one-year-old Basset Hound named Cleo. Known for big ears and long bodies, the American Kennel Club describes the average Basset Hound as a “couch potato.” They’re perfectly pleased to spend the day inside napping, but that doesn’t mean Mary is missing out on the exercise advantages of having a dog. Even without long walks or runs, Mary still says she’s more active now that she has a dog that she was before Cleo became the love of her life. The pair goes on regular short walks to keep Cleo trim, and playing in the yard is one of their favorite things to do together.
“She loves to play when we’re in the yard, so we’ll run around chasing each other until she flops over and I can’t catch my breath.”
All that chasing is in addition to the regular exercise Mary does on her own, and even those short bursts of puppy playtime contribute to her overall active lifestyle.
Whether you’re looking to add a few extra steps to your day or need a motivator to help you exercise regularly, a dog could be the answer. Dog owners exercise as a way to care for their dogs, but they also do it for themselves. More exercise means a healthier lifestyle and more time to dole out belly rubs and head scratches. A dog won’t bail on your workout at the last minute, and you’ll never hear him grumble about bad timing or worse weather. You can count on him to keep you moving, and you’ll live a healthier, more active life because of him.