Dogs love to go for walks with their “person”! For them, it’s a chance to experience all of the wonderful new smells that make up their world, as well as the joy of spending time with you outdoors. And if you take a cue from the Scandinavians, you won’t have to wait until spring arrives to get out and enjoy some one-on-one time with your four-legged buddy while you both get some great exercise and fresh, crisp air. Need more good reasons to get out the leash and bundle up? Here are just a few of the health and social benefits you stand to reap from regular walks with Fido …
Heart, Bone, and Brain Benefits
According to the staff at the world-famous Mayo Clinic, walking is a great way to manage high blood pressure and prevent or manage heart disease.
Walking is also good for your bones. Studies show that it may, over time, increase bone density, and the Nurse’s Health Study showed that walking — a weight-bearing form of exercise — improves balance, reducing your risk for falls, which are a common cause of fractures. (The study found that walking volume (more often is preferable), pace (the faster the better), and stride (aim for long strides) were associated with reductions in hip fracture risk of 40-60%.
Did you know that walking your dog can also reduce your risk of stroke? According to the American Heart Association, “Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with decreased [cardiovascular disease] risk.” That includes a lower risk for stroke, a leading cause of disabling brain injury.
Help With Weight Loss
Regular exercise — the kind that gets your heart pumping, like a brisk walk — is essential for both weight loss and weight maintenance. Walking puts less stress on joints than running, making it an ideal form of exercise for people of all ages. Ever notice that city-dwellers who walk blocks every day to and from work or to run errands are typically fit?
Another thing to consider? Walking helps reduce stress levels, which in turn makes losing weight easier.
Help With Chronic Back Pain
Because walking is low-impact, it’s a good choice for people who suffer from chronic back pain. According to Dr. Ted Forcum, Director of The Back in Motion Sports Injuries Clinic in Beaverton, Oregon, walking benefits your back by
- strengthening muscles in the feet, legs, hips, and torso
- nourishing spinal structures
- improving flexibility and posture
Mood-Boosting Benefits of Walking
It’s a fact that vigorous exercise improves mood, but now a new study in Mental Health and Physical Activity has shown that walking may be just as effective in helping with mood disorders, including depression. Combine that with the stress-relieving effects of owning and interacting with a dog, and you’ve got a win-win situation!
Did you know that people who walk their dogs are generally viewed by others as friendly and approachable? Linda Wasmer Andrews, writing for Psychology Today points out that one large study found that people who walk their dogs are more likely to interact positively with their neighbors, fully explore their neighborhoods and have a better sense of community, too.
Taking your dog along can also go a long way towards relieving his boredom and loneliness, and gives him a chance to bond with you on a regular basis. (Dogs that don’t get enough exercise can be prone to destructive behavior too, so chances are you’ll also reap the reward of better behavior around the house!) Besides, walks just make dogs really happy. Pick up the leash and you’ll usually get an automatic tail wag!
So what are you waiting for? Make a commitment to walk with your dog at least three times a week, to start. Worried about slipping on icy roadsides or walkways? Get yourself some Yaktrax or nubby-soled boots, bundle up against the cold, cue your four-legged friend, and, as Wasmer Andrews puts it “Let the ‘healing’ begin!”