A husband and wife walk their dog together.

We know they can be good for our spirits, but it turns out dogs can be good for our physical health as well.

Staying active is important to your health

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that you get your body moving on a regular basis, such as 2 ½ hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise.1

But sometimes we need a little incentive. In recent years there has been a great deal of research into whether our dogs might be valuable in encouraging us to exercise.

In a 2017 study of the relationship between older adults and dogs, “dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.”2

Walking a dog can also contribute to psychological health. “When you walk a dog, you’re bound to go outdoors, and you may start spending more time in parks and on trails,” according to Psychology Today magazine. “Studies show that getting out into nature can help restore your attention when it starts to flag. It can also increase your sense of well-being, especially if you’re attuned to the natural beauty around you.”3

Another study conducted in Sweden found a correlation between dog ownership and heart health. “Dogs may be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk in their owners by providing social support and motivation for physical activity,” the Swedish researchers wrote.4

And what about dog walking as an opportunity to socialize? There’s a good chance you’ll meet a neighbor or another pet owner while you’re out walking!

One word of caution: A study published in JAMA Surgery in the spring of 2019 reported that the number of patients 65 and older suffering broken bones associated with walking leashed dogs had risen significantly between 2004 and 2017.5

Dr. Jaimo Ahn, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior author of the study, told National Public Radio that he didn’t want to discourage dog walking. But he said people should recognize the limits of their strength, and maybe work on training the dog not to pull on the leash.

Training tips

Most dogs are happy to be active. The more activity you share with your dog, the tighter your bond. WebMD has a series of tips about other exercises you can do with your dog, including:6

  • Dancing with your dog
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Flying disc (Frisbee)
  • Hiking
  • Soccer
  • Cycling
  • Yoga
  • Fetch

Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Check with your veterinarian too, to make sure your dog is healthy enough to participate. Use caution in extreme weather conditions. Both hot asphalt and ice, for example, can pose problems for dogs’ feet.

Sources:

  1. “2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, , last accessed Sept. 9, 2019, https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf#page=66, opens new window.
  2. Angela L. Curl et al., “Dog Walking, the Human–Animal Bond and Older Adults’ Physical Health,” The Gerontologist (October 2017): 930-939, last accessed Sept. 9, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnw051, opens new window.,
  3. “Dog walking has psychological benefits for you,” Psychology Today, last accessed Sept. 9, 2019, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201404/dog-walking-has-psychological-benefits-you, opens new window.
  4. Mwenya Mubanga et al., “Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study,” Scientific Reports, last accessed Sept. 9, 2019, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16118-6, opens new window.
  5. “Walk your dog, but watch your footing: Bone breaks are on the rise”, National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/03/11/700547795/walk-your-dog-but-watch-your-footing-bone-breaks-are-on-the-rise, opens new window, last accessed Sept. 9, 2019.
  6. “Tips for Exercising With Your Dog,” WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/ss/slideshow-exercising-with-your-dog, opens new window, last accessed Sept. 9, 2019.