Walking Your Furry Friend: National Canine Fitness Month Can Enhance Your Wellness, Too
Did you know April is National Canine Fitness Month? Almost half of the US population owns a dog, and we likely spend a good amount of time and money to keep our furry friends happy. While walking our dogs might feel like a sacrifice, it provides an important opportunity to improve our own health and fitness, too.
It may seem like good news to know that 70% of dog owners walk their companions daily, but the 30% that do not might benefit from viewing dog walking as a treat instead of a chore. In an effort to help improve this, we briefly review some research about dog ownership and dog walking.
What does the research evidence suggest?
Several researchers have investigated the relation between dog ownership and physical activity, and how to promote physical activity among dog owners.
For example, Shane G. Brown and Ryan E. Rhodes measured “dog obligation” by assessing agreement with statements like “I feel an obligation to walk my dog regularly” and “My dog pressures me to take him/her for a regular walk”. The researchers found that a sense of dog obligation mediated the relation between dog ownership and physical activity. In other words, people who felt more of an obligation to Spot tended to walk more.
Similarly, Carri Westgarth and colleagues conducted interviews about dog-walking experiences and found that people were motivated to walk their dogs when they perceived that the dog needed to exercise. These owners also personally enjoyed the feeling of giving their dog a pleasant experience.
Together, this evidence indicates that valuing the needs of our dogs and feeling obligated to walk them are motivating and may lead to more physical activity behavior for dog owners. As an added bonus, dog walking may also provide mental wellness and stress relief.
What does this mean for you?
Dog owners are more physically active than people who do not own dogs. People with dogs walk their four-legged friends for many reasons, but it seems that recognizing the many ways that walking benefits our dogs is motivational. Dog walking can also serve as an opportunity to bond with our companions and increase our own pleasure, health, and wellness.
Walking has many health benefits and adults can obtain the recommended amounts of physical activity through brisk walking for 150 minutes per week. Fortunately for many, we do not need special exercise clothing or a gym to achieve the many benefits of regular physical activity.
Next time you’re struggling to grab the leash and go for a walk, take a moment to think about what you and your dog can gain from walking.
Don’t just walk for yourself – walk for Buster.
Why are you still reading this? Go for a walk!
Zachary Zenko is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University, an applied behavioral science research lab that helps people be happier, healthier, and wealthier. Dr. Zenko is focused on promoting physical activity and exercise behavior. Follow him on Twitter @zackzenko.
Stephanie Tepper is a behavioral researcher at the Center for Advanced Hindsight interested in behavior change and inequality. Follow her on Twitter @stephanietepper.