Exercising with your pet: benefits for the both of you
It is a shocking statistic that over 60% of British people are obese.
There have been many governmental efforts to tackle this growing and disturbing trend – from sugar taxes to food labelling initiatives. The truth is that most of us, in our modern lifestyles, simply sit still for most of the day and do little to no extraneous exercise. If we were more active, there would be far fewer health problems for us to deal with.
45% of us own a pet and those of us who are lucky enough to do so could use the help and motivation of a furry friend to get us out of the house more often and for longer.
Whether you own a dog already or are considering adding a new friend to your household, you might be interested in the huge health benefits of pet ownership!
Having a dog requires you to take a walk, ideally, twice a day. The exercise intensity of walking a pet can vary: a brisk neighbourhood walk can suffice for some small or old dogs, but for some a long run is necessary. Whilst routine is nice, variation can be fun for both of you too.
It is, however, important not to over-exercise your dog. It is advisable to visit your veterinarian to check that there are no underlying health concerns which could pose a risk for your pet.
Mentally, exercising with your pet provides a social element to the workout. This can strengthen the bond between you, as well as boosting both your moods.
Physically, you will both improve your cardiovascular system and lower your blood pressure.
On a motivational note, it is likely your dog will encourage you to take them on a walk or run – so they can become your fitness support system too!
For your dog
Exercising keeps a dog’s heart, lungs, joints, digestive and circulatory systems healthy as well as control the animal’s weight.
Noticing a need for more
If your dog is ‘zooming’ (racing extra fast around the house or garden) it is very likely that they require more exercise and need to be given the outdoor space to do so.
Happy side effects of exercise
Regular exercise may prevent your dog from these unwanted habits:
- Destructive chewing
- Anxious behaviour.
Remember that even though dogs often seem full of relentless and never-ending energy, if they are just beginning a fitness journey, they will not have the stamina or muscles to perform lengthy runs just as a human wouldn’t. Your pet will need to build distance gradually – just as you will!
Looking after your dog
It is also important to remember that not all dogs will have the same capacity for exercise – if you have a smaller pet, for example, they will not have an ability to run very long distances.
Many dogs have structural difficulties due to the way humans have bred them. This means certain breeds are particularly prone to arthritis, certain illnesses and more. So, you really do need to consult the veterinarian if you are starting a full-on exercise regime with the company of your canine.
Many flat nosed dogs such as pugs and bull dogs, struggle with breathing problems and can quickly become wheezy.
If you have a puppy, you should take your vet’s advice on when it is safe to start exercising them, and what type and duration are optimal.
Older or recovering dogs
For these dogs, just as in elderly or recovering humans, swimming can be a great alternative to the potential dangers of running or walking.
Dogs are susceptible to heat stroke, especially those from a brachycephalic breed. If it is hot out, use the earlier and later parts of the day to go outside in. Walk your dog on the grass wherever possible so as not to burn their paws on hot surfaces.
If it’s cold, avoid icy areas and areas that have been obviously chemically treated.
It’s advisable to inspect paws for cuts or nail damage after every walk or run.
Exercise for the whole family
It’s one thing to find the motivation to start your own fitness journey but encouraging children or older relatives to get active can be even more difficult. Having a dog could be a wonderful reason for children and grandparents to get outside.
Quality of exercise
Studies have shown that those exercising with a dog walk faster and for longer than those who go for walks alone.
Your dog can be a consistent and loving friend, which can greatly improve the owner’s sense of companionship and love. What’s more, a dog can be a great way to expand your social life as having a dog often sparks conversations with dog lovers or other dog owners who meet you and your dog out and about. For older or isolated people, this can be a wonderful bonus to dog walking.
If it’s not possible for you to adopt a dog, why don’t you approach a friend or neighbour with a pet and ask if you can help them out by taking the dog for a walk. Chances are, they will be relieved and grateful at your offer. There are also schemes such as Borrow My Doggy, that introduce would be pet owners to actual pet owners and enable you to strike up a mutually beneficial relationship.
Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life.
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