Various studies has been done that conclude pets can make great companions as fitness buddies. The American Heart Association released a report in its journal Circulation — the result of an expert panel’s thorough literature review — listing the benefits of pet ownership on human heart health.
It concluded that:
- pet ownership is probably associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors
- owning pets may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and a lower incidence of obesity
- pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress
- dog ownership, in particular, may help reduce cardiovascular risk.
All of that was great news for dog owners and helped confirm what many of us have always known on a gut level — dogs really are a human’s best friends. But what’s perhaps more exciting is that, beyond these more or less passive fringe health benefits of dogs, research also shows that they can be awesome fitness companions and workout pals, too.
“Exercising with your pet is a win-win,” says Tricia Montgomery, founder of K9 Fit Club, a Hinsdale, Illinois-based fitness club for dog owners that’s currently expanding to 31 locations nationwide.
“The best way to stick with a workout program is having a partner who’s not going to cancel on you. A dog is always excited to go, he’s never going to cancel and he’s happiest when he’s by your side.” In other words, that wagging tail may just be the motivation an owner needs to turn fitness into a routine. And studies confirm Montgomery’s argument.
A Michigan State University study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that people with canine companions are 34 percent more likely to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week than are people with other pets or none at all. The study also found that owning a dog promotes health and fitness even after you take your pup for a stroll, increasing leisure-time physical activity by 69 percent.
In a three-month study by the University of Missouri, older adults who walked dogs showed a big improvement in fitness over their counterparts who walked with human friends, and even increased their walking speed by 28 percent. The reason? “Dogs don’t make excuses,” says lead researcher Dr. Rebecca A. Johnson, director of U of M’s Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction, and co-author of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together.
Dogs may be the best workout partners ever, but too many of them aren’t getting enough exercise. Nor are cats. Experts estimate that nearly 35 percent of pets today are overweight, which increases their risk for many serious conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, breathing problems, and heart disease.
Blame the pudgy pet problem on too many treats and not enough leash time. According to our friends at Active.com and celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson for Petfit.com, here are some great behavior modification tips to help make sure you and your pet are getting the exercise you need!
1. Interval Walk
“So many pet owners consider walking their pets a chore, like making the bed,” says Peterson. “Instead, think of it as a way for you both to get exercise, as an essential part of your pet’s good health.” A quick walk down the block to pee and back isn’t enough activity, he says.
Multiple short walks a day may be best for very young, very old, or physically challenged dogs, but for other pets, take longer strolls that increase your pet’s heart rate (at least 15 to 20 minutes), which will boost his metabolism.
2. Fetch Tease for Abs
Crunch and tone your tummy while your dog sprints to play fetch.
How to: Grab your pet’s favorite fetch toy and get down on the floor in sit-up position. Hold the toy as you do a sit-up, and pretend to toss it as you reach the top. Fido will chase after it, only to realize you still have his toy. Do another sit-up, and pretend to toss the toy again. Try to get in as many reps as you can until your dog stops chasing and playing along.
3. Squat Tease
Firm your butt and thighs while your dog gets his jump on.
How to: Stand with legs shoulder-width apart. Squat and tap your dog with his favorite toy. As you rise, lift the toy above your head; your dog will jump up for it.
4. Dogstacle Course
This is circuit training for you and your pet.
How to: Place fitness gear throughout your backyard, as though you’re creating an obstacle course (only do this in a fenced-in area). Think fitness step, bosu ball, jump rope, hula hoop, etc. Place your dog on a leash and briskly walk through the course together. At each station, stop and do a specific exercise, like modified push-ups on the step or balancing moves on the bosu ball. Some well-trained dogs may sit still while you work out, but if he doesn’t, no biggie. If your pooch runs off, that’s part of the fun — you’ll both get a good sprint when you chase him to bring him back. Your dog will love the quality time with you and the fast-paced walking between your stations.
5. Dog Tag
Just like the game you played as a kid, this is good sprinting exercise for you and your pooch.
How to: You’re it: “Tag” your dog, then start running around your backyard and let him chase you. After a few minutes, you’ll both get your heart rates soaring.
6. Fetch Races
Your dog won’t be the only one playing fetch in this game.
How to: Head to your backyard or a park and throw your pup’s favorite toy — only this time, race her to pick it up (a great way to get your blood pumping). Then wrestle the toy from her grasp, toss, and race her for it again.
7. Dog Stairs
Climbing steps together will sculpt your legs and help your pup burn off his breakfast.
How to: Leash your pooch and pick a long staircase, either in your house, or perhaps the bleachers at a nearby school. Go up and down the stairs with your pet by your side, and vary the way you step for a more challenging workout: Take steps two at a time, widen your stance so you step up in a “V,” run up the steps sideways, and more.
8. Cat “Light” Abs
We didn’t forget about your kitty — she needs to stay active too. “Getting a feline to frolic can be hard work,” says Cruz. “As cats leave their mischievous kitten stage of life, learning what makes your cat frisky can take some trial and error.”
This move tones your tummy and gets your cat up and at ’em.
How to: Do sit-ups with a mini flashlight in each hand. At the top position, tighten your ab muscles while waving the flashlight beams back and forth on the wall — your cat will chase them.
9. Cat “Light” Cardio
A mock jump rope exercise with flashlights will get your heart pumping as your cat chases the light.
How to: Hold a mini flashlight in each hand, about 10 feet away from a wall. Pretend to jump rope (you’re not actually holding a rope, just mimic the motion with your arms and legs). The light will bounce on the wall in front of you, and your cat will get a short burst of exercise as she tries to catch the light.
10. Curious Cat Curls
Sculpt your biceps while your cat jumps and stretches.
How to: Tie a light toy with a string to your dumbbells. Fluffy will go crazy trying to catch the toy as you curl up and down.
Remember that pets can’t sweat (they pant to cool down), so the best time to exercise outdoors is morning or evening, when it’s not too hot. Sounds obvious, but smaller or short-legged pets are probably not your best marathon training partners; they’re not born to run long distances like Labs or retrievers. Instead, try shorter interval walks with sprints.
Watch for signs of exhaustion or overheating. Provide an ounce of water for every pound your pet weighs. If your pooch pants excessively or hyperventilates, his tongue and gums turn brick red, or he can’t keep up and stands or lies listlessly, stop exercising and seek immediate veterinary care. These may be signs of a heat stroke, which is potentially fatal. Now you know the basics, so let’s get started!
Studies are now confirming that Canine owners are more likely to exercise regularly and to be fitter and healthier than their pooch-free peers. New research from Michigan State University reports that people with canine companions are 34 percent more likely to get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week than are folks with other pets (sorry, kitties) or none at all.
“A dog can do more for you than a treadmill,” says Rebecca Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of nursing at the University of Missouri and coauthor of Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together. “When you interact with a dog, endorphins rise and stress levels fall. This emotional connection gives an extra boost to your workouts.”
When you consider that an energizer doggy can help you get fit, lose weight, and have fun in the process, a chewed-up pair of sandals becomes a worthy sacrifice.