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: Weight Management….for your pets!

Sasmon food bowl
Samson, sleeping in his food bowl, after starting his “diet.”

Samson, my German Shepherd, never met a meal he didn’t like (that goes for socks, too, but that’s another story). When he tipped the scales at 105 pounds, our vet, Dr. Matthew Keifer, gently reminded us that German Shepherd dogs are prone to hip problems, so it would be best keep Samson under 100 pounds. We heeded his advice, despite Samson’s obvious desire for more food, today he is a svelte 93 pounds.

 

2017+U.S.+Pet+Obesity+InfographicWe are all aware of high obesity rates in humans. The most recent figures from the CDC report the prevalence of obesity in adults is 39.8%. But, another report caught my eye from ConscienHealth showing the rising rates of obesity in our dogs and cats. A report from a pet insurance company showed that they paid out $69 million for obesity-related veterinary care last year. Since less than 2% of pet owners have insurance for their furry friends, the dollar amount for obesity-related care is bound to be much higher.

The Association for Pet Obesity (#sad that we need such an organization) reports 2017 data showing that 56% of dogs and 60% of cats are clinically overweight. And, that takes a toll on their health.

I reached out to Dr. Leah Dorman, who, along with her colleague, helped me understand what we can do to keep our pets at a healthy weight. Here are their top 10 tips for controlling weight (these are for dogs and cats, but some of these work well for humans, too!)

  1. Many of us don’t realize our pets are overweight, so Dr. Dorman likes to show this chart to help clients identify if their pet is at a healthy weight. Body condition scoring helps the vet determine obesity and is another tool besides just scale weight. “An extra 30 pounds on a 65-pound Labrador is equivalent to an extra 75 pounds on a 154-pound woman,” making us appreciate how weight can affect a dog’s health.
  2. In addition to the medical conditions shown in the chart, dogs can show issues with CONSEQUENCES+OF+EXCESS+FAT+IN+DOGS+&+CATS+(1)their knee ligaments as the excess weight puts a burden on joints (just like it does in humans.) Losing even a small amount of weight can make a big difference in the mobility of an arthritic pet. Obese cats have a higher incidence of diabetes and dogs who are fed lots of people food can experience pancreatitis.

3. Assess your pet’s eating routine and the family’s feeding habits. Dr. Dorman recommend feeding the amount that keeps the pet in tip-top shape, based on body condition scoring.  Portion control is important. “A little poodle is only about 5% of an owner’s body weight, so adjust any people food they are given accordingly,” says Dr. Dorman. This link can help you identify treats for pets compared to human foods.

4. For pets who are not very active, consider feeding “less active” pet foods for a less calorie dense diet that allows the pet to still feel full.

5. Treats are OK, just limit the amounts of treats. Or, find low-cal treats like carrots or green beans if your pet will eat them. Be careful about table scraps; “calories can add up quickly and it’s often done on the sly by family members…it’s so hard to resist those begging puppy or kitty eyes watching every bite you take.  Be strong!  Your pet’s health depends on it!”

6. In households where there are multiple people feeding the pet, put all the treats and food for the pet into a Ziplock bag labeled Sunday through Saturday. When the bag is empty, they are done for the day.

7. Limit or eliminate canned food. “Try green beans; cut a pet’s food back by 20% and replace that volume with green beans.”

8. “Dogs are feast or famine eaters… their ancestors would go out, catch something then gorge themselves then not eat for a few days. It is normal for pets to eat well one day and not the next.” So, avoid the temptation to doctor up their food to tempt them to eat.

9. “Stop feeding them when they beg!!! You are rewarding a bad behavior.  It’s like giving your kid a candy bar in the checkout line when they are wailing at the top of their lungs even though you said no six times already.  You cave to the begging behavior and you bet they will be back to beg.”

10. Be aware of the calories in the pet treats. “A large busy bone has over 700 calories and an average size dog treat has about 110 calories- about the number of calories in a chocolate chip cookie. It’s OK to have one, but not 10 each day!”

Samson 2015
A sleek Samson at 93 pounds

Dr. Leah Dorman is Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine and is the Director, Food Integrity & Consumer Engagement with Phibro Animal Health Corporation. Follow her on twitter @askDrDorman and terrific blog, found by clicking here.

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

Food coma? What I’ve learned about eating from my dogs.

I’m a dog lover and I’ve learned a lot about eating from observing my dogs. Bella, a 10-year old shepherd-collie mix, eats like an intuitive eater, not like a dog. Her good eating habits include:

Eating slowly

Chewing every bite before swallowing

Eating to hunger and leaving food in her bowl when full

Drinking plenty of water

Samson, a 2-year old German shepherd (pictured here asleep with his head still inside the food bowl) has also taught me some lessons about how not to eat. His bad eating habits include:

Gulping down his food

Seemingly swallowing food whole without chewing (I know this because sometimes he has to stop eating and clear the food that gets stuck in his huge jaws.)

Licking the bowl clean (he even picks up his bowl and drops it at my feet when he is finished eating as if saying, “more, please.”)

And, sneaking over to Bella’s food bowl to finish off her food

So, try to model Bella’s food habits even though many of us eat like Samson!