How can a dog keep you active and healthy?
Though the importance of exercise is probably not lost on us, finding the motivation can sometimes be tricky. The concept of ‘keeping fit’ is an often abstract one, with progress incremental, and stumbling blocks aplenty to deter us from powering through. While food, sleep and shelter are immediate needs, activity is not. In fact, it can feel pretty pointless.
Fortunately for dog owners, motivation can be very conspicuously found in the form of their canine companions. While you may be able to convince yourself that going outside isn’t strictly necessary, your dog will have other ideas. Nor are they shy about letting you know about them (in their own doggy ways).
Bark for your buck
Some will see owning a pet as a pointless burden and much more trouble than it’s worth. If they think that, they are probably right. A dog, more so than other common pets, will not take care of itself. They are usually unhappy to be separated from company for extended periods, have lots of energy, and ideally need a living space suited to their size. Then there’s the cost. Food, toys, bedding any safeguarding adjustments to your living space should be factored into your budget. Pet insurance may have seemed absurd at one point in time but it is relatively commonplace now, especially among those who paid a lot for the animal to begin with. Let’s just say dogs cost more than the average gym membership.
Though the treatment of dogs as family members is natural to many owners now, they have historically been used for more explicitly practical purposes. Since their domestication roughly 15,000 years ago, their roles of hunting, guarding, herding and fighting have gradually expanded to symbols of status and nationality. Even as naturally affinitive companions (we know that the Ancient Egyptians loved their dogs) they have never been quite so coddled as today, in a world where gourmet dog food, pet spas, bespoke accessories and Petflix exists.
But we shouldn’t let our obsession with dogs distract from some of the practical benefits they can still produce for us. Not only can they drag us out into the natural world, but they can keep us active and encourage a healthy lifestyle (not literally, although I like to imagine my dogs dressing up in lab coats and talking about the importance of daily exercise).
This is largely down to their necessity for daily walks – which holds equally true for their owners. If you spend a lot of time at the desk, then breaking it up with a stroll will boost blood circulation and keep your body energised and refreshed. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from doing this without a dog, but they can add incentive to what otherwise may feel like a pointless task.
A recent study shows that dog walkers undertake on average 13 more minutes of exercise a day than those without dogs, while the odds of them meeting physical activity guidelines are four times greater. Dog walkers also are less deterred by bad weather – interestingly Britain walks their dogs more than America and Australia, which may be cultural, or down to the fact that British dogs are not expected to self-exercise as much.
For some, the social aspect of dog walking will be another perk. While it can be a good excuse to bring along you friends, partner, or children, there is also the opportunity to meet any number of dogwalkers. Others may be put off by this, and the dogs themselves can have a wide range of preferences when in comes to meeting other pooches.
It is not something that immediately comes to mind, but a dog can lead us to use our bodies in ways we wouldn’t otherwise bother with. Bending down to scratch the creatures, or pick up a toy, is a natural way to stretch the joints. Dogs can also lead you to crouching, stretching your neck and using the arm muscles to a greater extent (for say, a throwing, or tugging motion). The easiest way to keep active is not having any choice in the matter, which is one of the lesser-celebrated benefits of dogs.
Other health benefits
Stress relief: Dogs, as with other pets, can have stress alleviating qualities, which can translate to positive effects on physical health. For one, playing with them increases levels of serotonin and dopamine, which can aid relaxation. They can also reduce blood pressure, notably in stressful situations and among those who suffer from hypertension.
Of course, this is assuming the dog behaves and doesn’t drive their owner spare. If you are looking into getting a first dog, then opt for breed that is obedient, easy to train and friendly. There are many aspects to dogs (puppies particularly) that can actually induce stress in unprepared owners. Those who are able to accommodate them in their lifestyles will also see a number of other benefits, however.
Effects on the brain: Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are great for mental health. Their presence has been noted to ease depression and anxiety in long-term owners and non-owners alike, which is why they are used for therapy. They have also been found to boost empathy and compassion, in everyone from misbehaving children to hardened criminals. As animals that live in the moment, they can boost our confidence and help us become more present.
Companionship: Above all, they are well-suited companions. This is hardly surprising given that many of them have been bred for this exact purpose. Their evolution charts them from scavenging pack animals to more docile house pets, albeit ones that still serve a range of duties. As highly domesticated animals, the modern dog will get just as much out of their owners as their owners will them. As a result, the owner may be less susceptible to illness, partly due to feeling happier and more fulfilled in their day-to-day life.
Though certain breeds are more demanding of attention than others, all deserve a safe home and trustworthy owners who understand their requirements. Before getting a dog, make sure you are able to provide them with the time, resources, attention and stability they need across their lifetimes.