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.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Happy Healthy Aging Month

healthy_aging_monthSeptember is Healthy Aging Month and Dr. Bob and I wish everyone a happy, healthy September! Since we published Food & Fitness After 50 we have posted a weekly blog, Fit to Eat, and we have interviewed over thirty inspiring adults, ranging in age from 55 to 90! They live as far away as Australia and as close to home as our own backyards of of Hartwell, Georgia or Chicago, Illinois. (We hope you like our posts and if you haven’t already followed our blog, please do but clicking on the Fit to Eat link!)

Today, we are taking a short trip down memory lane to mine the advice and wisdom of the folks interviewed for Fit to Eat. Like our book, we’re capturing the ideas in three buckets: Eat well, Move well, and Be well.

Eat well

Three themes came through from our 50+ folks on eating well. First, no one adhered to a rigid plan or fad-diet-of -month. No Paleo, no Keto, and no CICO or IIFYM plans. One person experimented with intermittent fasting, but the key word for everyone is balance.

Bob bike 2
Bob indulging during his bike ride across Iowa

Balance is the ability to eat and drink anything you want, in moderation. Of course, you have to know what moderation is; eating a basket of fried chicken wings with a half dozen beers every Friday night is not moderation! It is OK to indulge once in a while, like Bob did on his 7-day bike trek across Iowa riding about 65-miles a day, but you can’t over eat everyday and claim you are eating well.

A second theme that emerges is eating for health, that is, enjoying a wide variety of healthful foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meats, fish, and dairy. Some focused on plant-based vegetarian diets, but most didn’t limit a particular food or eliminate an entire food group, like grains. Eating a variety of foods is smart because you are more likely to get all of the nutrients you need to support optimal aging.

Lastly, everyone we spoke to did not fear their food! They know that eating is not only biologically necessary, but one of life’s pleasures. They are conscious of limiting sugar and saturated fat and excess alcohol, but they love sharing meals with family and friends over social occasions.

Move Well

Buddy
Chris walking Buddy but sometimes Buddy walks Chris

Everyone we talked to was active in their own way. Some loved pickleball and others used their fists and feet from boxing to Bollywood dancing. And, me, I love group exercise classes and walking my dogs while Bob prefers individual activities and doesn’t own a dog.

So, bottom line, find something you like to do and do it. Make it challenging…get your heart rate pumping a bit harder, your breathing a bit labored, and fatigue your muscles when you lift weights. As Sally says, “no challenge, no change.”

Exercise brings intrinsic joy, but it helps to have a mentor to encourage you or a buddy who will meet you at 5:15 am every morning for a run before work. So, make it fun and make it your own and be consistent!

Be Well

We all know that eating well and moving well are only part of the equation for optimal aging. To be well we need resilience; probably the most important trait to healthy aging. Because as we age, stuff is going to happen; we lose loved ones, we get injured, we experience chronic health problems, we get joints replaced…but, through it all we need to see the positive and bounce back from set backs. Everyone we  talked to had experienced some challenges but they all recognized the issue and moved on.

Social support is also important for being well; whether family or friends, community or religious institution, everyone valued social support for optimal aging. Book clubs, health clubs, Friday morning breakfast with the guys or gals, or developing a social club for Single Outstanding Ladies Offering Support (SOLOS), anything that keeps us connected helps us to be well.

Lastly, a thirst for lifelong leaning, as typified by Elizabeth, who at 90 seeks out opportunities to learn something new every day.

SCAN symposium
Chris & Bob

We hope you take every day this month (and every month!) to be healthy. For more practical intel on eating well, moving well, and being well, check out Food & Fitness After 50 on Amazon.