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: Physical Activity is a Polypill – Say What?

Poly means many and polypharmacy refers to taking many drugs, prescription as well as over the counter, that can bring unwanted problems for older adults. Some people have shoe boxes full of prescription medicines, vitamin supplements, pain relievers, and other dietary supplements claiming to cure all ills. But, what if there was a polypill; one pill that could help us all improve our healthspan? In today’s post, Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, lets us in on the secret of a polypill.

This post was written by Dr. Bob Murray

There is little doubt that regular physical activity lengthens our healthspan—the number of years when we are in good health.  Lots of research has made it clear that no medication is more effective than physical activity in helping us stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  For that reason, exercise has been referred to as a pollypill —a medication with multiple benefits.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that all the physical activity we encounter during the course of a normal day has a role in preventing heart disease.  The researchers looked at the daily physical activity habits of 5,861 older women (average age was 78) over a 5-year period and found that even light activity reduced the chances of death from heart disease.

Only about 25% of adults in the U.S. achieve the current recommendations for physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity) each week.  For anyone who is intimidated by the prospect of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, the notion that all movement counts may well promote more light physical activity during the day.  Let’s hope that’s the case.

Walking, dusting, vacuuming, climbing stairs at home, gardening and lawn work, playing with children and pets, and similar low-intensity activities are part of everyday life for most Americans.  In the JAMA study, the older women engaged in a total of 3 to over 6 hours of light physical activity each day.  Not surprisingly, more physical activity was associated with lower risk of heart disease, a finding that is likely also true for older men, although that likelihood awaits confirmation.

exerciseAny time we get our heart, lungs, and muscles out of their comfort zones—even for a little bit—our bodies benefit.  A quick look at the list of health benefits of physical activity should be enough to convince even the most sedentary person to move more.

  • Lower deaths from all causes
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Lower risk of hypertension
  • Lower risk of stroke
  • Lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes
  • Lower risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancers
  • Lower risk of serious falls
  • Lower risk of complications after surgery
  • Lower risk of metabolic syndrome (includes obesity)
  • Lower risk of depression (and reduces the severity of depression)
  • Better memory and cognitive function
  • Better bone health
  • Improved quality of life
  • Greater life expectancy

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if even light physical activity conferred all those same benefits, even if to a lesser extent than more vigorous physical activity?  There is a strong possibility that is the case, although much more research is needed to confirm that educated guess.  What is known is that moving more during the day is a goal we all should embrace.

In general, Americans sit too often for too long.  Research has shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 Diabetes, and cancer.  Even if we exercise during the day, sitting for hours on end increases our risk of those disorders.  Happily, interrupting prolonged sitting with periodic 5-minute physical activity “snacks” counters the negative aspects of sitting.  Climbing a few flights of stairs, taking a brisk walk, or doing simple calisthenics can be easily accomplished during a 5-minute break.

Physical activity is indeed a polypill that can help us lead longer, happier, healthier lives and the fact that all movement counts helps make it easier for all of us to keep moving toward a longer healthspan.

Dr. Bob Murray is an exercise physiologist and managing principal of a sports science consulting company. His passion for exercise and health began as a physical education teacher and coach, and continues today in his late 60s as an avid swimmer, cyclist, and fitness fan.

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