You Move, You Lose
Research shows that dog owners often log in double workouts–they don’t see taking the dog out as a sweat session, so they still spin and lift. But don’t discount those walks. If you keep a moderate pace, you can burn up to 68 calories in 20 minutes. Indeed, a study from the University of Missouri found that overweight participants who walked dogs for 20 minutes five days a week for a year lost an average of 14 pounds. Throw in some high-energy games of chase, tug-of-war, and Frisbee, and you’ll stoke your metabolism even more, says Gregory Florez, a certified athletic trainer in Salt Lake City.
You’ll never find anyone who loves to exercise more. And that enthusiasm can be contagious. One Australian study found that dog owners felt more resilient to exercise barriers such as a busy work schedule or social life and felt more confident that they could find time for exercise regardless of other commitments. “A dog is always ready and willing to go,” explains dog trainer J.T. Clough, author of 5K Training Guide: Running with Dogs. Plus, unlike a neighbor or your most dependable coworker, an ever-eager pup “never cancels on you at the last minute, complains about being tired, or backs down from rain or snow.”
For that reason, University of Missouri researchers say the best exercise buddies very well may be the four-legged variety. They reported that people who walked with their dogs increased their speed by 28 percent over 12 weeks, while those who strolled with a human friend got only 4 percent faster. The reason? People tend to whine (“I hate hills!”) or talk each other out of workouts (“Glee is on!”), says Johnson, the study’s author. Dogs, on the other hand, are always game.
Follow His Lead
Have a race goal? You’ve just found your coach. Dogs are creatures of habit, and they’ll help you stick to a training plan. Once your pup gets into the routine of a morning run, you won’t need an alarm clock–the wet nose in your face will work. And his steady tempo can also make you a legit speedster. “We don’t realize how much our thoughts slow us down,” says Clough. “A dog has a one-track mind; he’ll push the pace.”
Plus, if you’re feeling tired or bored, you can feed off your companion’s uppity demeanor, which can be a pick-me-up and take your mind off the miles, says Clough. And thanks to dog-friendly events (like Athens Run for the Dogs in Georgia, and Race for the Rescues in Pasadena, California, both being held this fall), you can even cross the finish line together.
Romp and Roam
There’s no need to limit yourself (and your pooch) to walks around the block or runs in the park. Dogs crave adventure, and many breeds are perfect hiking, biking, in-line skating, or swimming buddies, says Clough. A word of caution: If your dog has a love of squirrel chases–and you have a dislike of wipeouts–rethink cycling and skating, or practice first in a parking lot where you can sharpen training cues.
You can also try a dog-friendly boot-camp class (there are several across the country). Leash Your Fitness in San Diego starts with a warm-up followed by cardio circuits. “Sprinting alongside your dog can help you step out of your comfort zone and increase your speed,” says athletic trainer Dawn Celapino, who runs the program. Then, while your panting pal practices obedience commands (“Sit! Stay!”), you knock out a series of muscle-building moves like pushups and lunges. The workout wraps up with–what else?–downward-facing dog, a “doga” (yoga for dogs) pose.
Rescue Effort for Pets
Don’t have a dog? You can still get in some canine workouts: Volunteer to run or walk a pound puppy (find a shelter at aspca.org). Research from the University of Missouri shows that people who walk shelter dogs tend to stick with their workouts because they feel committed to the animals.
Jeff Graves, founder of KC Dog Runners in Kansas City, Missouri, an organization that matches volunteers with rescue dogs for twice-monthly runs, agrees. “Virtually no one cancels, because there’s this sense that the dogs really need the workout–and they do,” he says. “Because the animals are able to release some of their pent-up energy, they show better to prospective adopters and are taken into good homes faster.” Talk about exercise rewards.
You come home from a long day at work, ready to put your feet up and relax for a while. When you open the door to find your furry friend waiting, hoping that it’s time for a walk or a game of fetch, what do you do? Do you ignore the wagging tail, those big eyes, and that look of excitement? Of course not! You decide that relaxing can wait, and you head out with Fido for a little activity.
You know that exercise is good for you. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, sleep better, and increase your energy level. The great thing is that activity does the same for your pets! Not only will exercise help them live longer, but an exercising animal is also more alert and more content. Some people believe that their pets misbehave to get even for being left alone; but in reality, the cause is usually boredom from lack of exercise. Many other behavior problems like chewing, digging, and barking go away once the animal starts getting regular activity.
Some recent studies have shown a link between pet ownership and better health. A dog, for example, becomes a stimulus for exercise. Therefore, pet owners tend to have better cardiovascular fitness levels than people without pets. One study, for example, showed that dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes per week–that’s nearly double the 168 minutes of walking that people without dogs usually do. In addition, pets have been shown to reduce anxiety, be a source of physical contact and comfort, and decrease feelings of loneliness and depression.
Exercising with your dog is a great time saver! Whether you like to run, walk, or play in the backyard with your pet, you can get your own workout at the same time. Although walking is probably the most common activity, there are other opportunities for exercise that you may not have thought of—hiking, backpacking, jogging, swimming, and rollerblading (be careful!) can all be done with pets in tow. Many sporting goods stores now carry items such as canine backpacks, hands-free leashes (to make jogging easier), and life vests to protect pets in the water.
Just as it would be hard for you to go out and jog for 45 minutes if you haven’t worked out in 6 months, it’s also hard for your pet. Be sure to get your veterinarian’s okay before beginning your pet’s exercise routine. After you get the go-ahead, here are some tips to help you get started:
Start slowly, gradually increasing the time and intensity of the activity. This will safely strengthen your pet’s muscles, aerobic capacity, and footpads. Pay attention to how your pet is feeling. Signs that your pet needs to slow down or stop include drooling, stumbling, trouble breathing, and a long, droopy tongue. Take a break and consider making tomorrow’s workout shorter. Also remember that in hot weather your pet can’t sweat like you do to keep cool.
Concrete and asphalt are tough on your friends’ paws—especially on hot days. Try to walk or run on dirt paths (or grass) as much as possible. The longer you work out, the more water Fido needs. Bring along a collapsible water dish to help your pet stay hydrated. Be realistic about your pet’s limitations. Many smaller breeds love going for a brisk walk, but you’ll probably have to carry them on a strenuous hike. Animals with a thin coat will not tolerate cold weather very well, whereas dogs with thick coats don’t do well in the
You should avoid strenuous exercise with your pet until they are finished growing (after 9-12 months for most dogs). Working out with a buddy can be motivating and make exercise more enjoyable. So think about making a buddy out of your four-legged friend! Between catnaps, cats are always on the go. Regular exercise helps prevent obesity and its associated health risks. It also helps prevent undesirable behavior by entertaining your cat and providing physical or intellectual stimulation.
Exercise Through Play
Peak activity for cats occurs in the early morning and in the evening. Play with your cat before you go to bed so she will be ready to sleep when you are. Toys are fun, but interactive play is also entertaining and one of the best ways to keep your cat healthy and responsive to you. Solitary cats may play more roughly with their owners. Your single cat has only you to play with and needs to learn to control playful nips and scratches. The only thing better than one new cat is two! They will keep each other company when you can’t and you will harbor one more loving pet in need of a good home.
Provide Safe Toys and Games for Pets
Choose sturdy toys without small parts that can be swallowed. Discard any broken toys. Provide a variety of toys and put them away between play sessions. Try hiding a few kibbles of cat food and let your cat hunt them down. Despite the traditional image of cats playing with balls of yarn or string, these are dangerous if swallowed.
Avoid games that teach your cat to pounce on moving fingers, hands, feet or legs. These could encourage serious aggression later. Play games that direct your cat’s playful energy away from you. Chasing ping-pong balls is great fun. Dangle toys from a string tied to a stick like a fishing pole, but keep the pole low to discourage risky leaps.
Don’t underestimate the power of a pup walk. It’s good exercise for any dog, though the amount and distance should vary based on dog and breed, says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. It pays off for the owner too—in a study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, dog walkers had lower BMIs and were less likely to suffer from chronic conditions and depression symptoms than those who didn’t walk their pets. Just remember that dogs can overheat easily, so beware of hot asphalt, which can increase body heat and burn paw pads, and look out for lethargy and panting.
“Dogs really enjoy going for a run because they spend so much of their life in your backyard,” says Sundance. The first time you go jogging together, start slowly. Medium-size dogs with a lean build, deep chest, and long muzzle—like Border Collies and Weimaraners—are best-suited for running. Gauge how well your dog handles a half-mile run, then build up by quarter-mile increments. Dogs typically enjoy being in front of you—if yours starts to slow or fall to your side or behind you it’s time for a break. Look out for heavy panting, pale gums, or foaming at the mouth, which are signs he’s tired or overheated. And after every outing, check his pads for scratches.
Some of the newest yogis are of the barking variety. Doga (dog + yoga) is a chance to spend more time with your pup by sharing the yoga mat. Contact your local kennel club or pet store to find out if doga classes are offered in your area. The cost varies, usually from about $12 to $16 for a one-hour class.
If you have access to a dog beach, pup-friendly public lake, or private pool, take advantage! No matter if you’re human or canine, water-based exercise benefits those who are older or have joint problems, such as arthritis. Not all dogs are natural H2O hounds, though, so be sure that yours enjoys and can handle the water before you take him swimming, says Dr. Beaver. Buy him a doggy life jacket, like the Ruff Wear Portage Float Coat, as an extra precaution.
“Teamwork” is the magic word in dog agility. A dog runs through an obstacle course complete with teeter-totters, tunnels, tire jumps, and more, and the owner remains by her pooch’s side the entire time, providing directions and support. It’s a race against the clock that gets both parties’ hearts pumping. While competitions are popular, you can participate just for the fun of it by taking an agility class in your area (about $10 to $15 per one-hour group class; ask your local kennel club or pet store).
You can even create an agility course in your backyard. Purchase a kids’ tunnel at a toy store; make a teeter-totter by placing a plank on top of a small two-by-four; and create your own bar jump out of PVC pipes or a broomstick laid across two buckets. To prep your pup for the bar jump, begin with the bar on the ground and your dog on a leash. Trot with her over the bar, and then praise her for her success. Raise the bar slightly, and then do it again—like a reverse game of limbo. After she can successfully jump over the bar with you, let her attempt it on her own by jogging toward the bar with her but then continuing alongside it while she jumps.
This classic backyard game is the ultimate canine- and family-friendly activity. “When you play together and the dog catches your disc, it’s such a feeling of mutual success,” says Sundance. Get your dog acquainted with the Frisbee by placing it upside down and using it as a food bowl. Then ease her into the game by spinning and rolling it on the floor. You and your kids will be yelling “Catch!” in no time.
Pets can really make a difference in our health and fitness profile. Women Fitness feels the above resource on exercising with pets shall go a long way in keeping you happy and physically fit.