Food & Fitness After 50: Owning a Dog Might be Good for Your Fitness

Thanks to Dr. Bob Murray for writing this post. As a dog-lover and dog-owner (well, I think Samson and Buddy own me!) I can related to the benefits of having a dog. Even when I don’t feel like walking, those pleading doggie eyes get me every time!

woman-walking-dogThat sure is a wishy-washy title.  Why not something more definitive such as “Owning a Dog Makes You More Fit”?  After all, most dog owners can vouch for the increase in their daily physical activity just to care for their pet, including regular walks around the neighborhood.  About half of U.S. households own at least one dog and some studies do suggest that dog owners walk more than non-dog owners and are much more likely to meet the current physical activity recommendations (150 minutes of physical activity each week).  I use the word “suggest” because it is not yet fully clear if dog owners walk more just because they already lead more active lifestyles or if the dog owners studied overestimated the amount of time they actually spend walking their pets.  On a more positive note, other studies report that dog owners are less sedentary because they do move more and sit less during the day.

a-person-walking-a-dogIn theory, dog ownership might help reduce the epidemic of sedentary behavior that increases the risk of all sorts of diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.  It is clear that increased daily physical activity combats all those nasty outcomes, yet most adult Americans do not come close to getting the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes each week).

isolated jack russell terrier holding leather leach over white backgroundWe often think of physical activity as something to be scheduled into our days rather than as the total of all the movement we’re able to accomplish during a day.  It’s actually the sum of that movement—day after day—that provides lifelong benefits to health and well-being.  For example, if a person goes to a one-hour daily exercise class, works up a sweat, but is then sedentary the remaining 23 hours, the benefits of that hour of exercise are greatly diminished.  In contrast, there are great benefits for those who are active all day long in one way or another, be it housework, gardening, walking, labor, and so on.  Add to that list taking care of pets, especially dogs.

Motivating people to swap a sedentary lifestyle for an active lifestyle is no easy task.  It’s relatively simple for us to change our habits in the short-term (e.g., joining a gym), but sustained long-term behavior change (e.g., going to the gym regularly) is much more difficult for most people.  And that’s where dog ownership comes in.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that some scientists have put a lot of thought into what motivates us to exercise.  Here’s one recent scientific explanation: “… the multi-action control (M-PAC) framework is a [physical activity] PA-specific model that recognizes reflective processes (e.g., perceived capability) as antecedents of PA intention formation, regulatory processes as key to the translation of intention to behavior (also known as action control), and reflexive processes (e.g., habit) as potential hallmarks of PA maintenance.” (Click here to see the study cited.)

Responsible dog owners recognize their pet’s need for physical activity and that involves daily walks, among other dog-related activities (feeding, petting, grooming, etc.)  Good dog parents develop sustainable, repeatable daily physical activity habits that can last for many years, motivated by the love they feel for their pet and their desire to provide the best care possible to ensure their dog has a long healthspan.

funny-5-miles-dog-walkingOwning a dog is obviously not a sure solution for reducing sedentary time and increasing physical activity time, but being a responsible dog owner does mean that you’ll be taking more walks (and bending over more often) than you did before you owned a dog.  And if those activities add to your daily activity total, you’ll be better off both physically and emotionally.

If your spouse or partner is reluctant to take on the responsibilities of a pet parent, perhaps a convincing argument might be “But honey, owning a puppy will help us both live longer, happier lives and there’s nothing I’d like more than to spend more time with you.”

For more tips on moving well as we age, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.