The Surprising Health Benefits Associated With Walking Your Dog Each Day
Most of us know that our dogs love going on walks. For our canine friends, daily walks allow them to spend quality with their humans in an outdoor setting where they can explore nature and maybe even make a few new furry friends along the way. As a pet owner, a daily walk is the perfect time for you to bond with your furry companion while also helping your pup work off his or her excess energy. But the benefits of daily dog walking go beyond just being a good pet caretaker.
One study found that people who have dogs and take them on regular walks tend to be more physically active than those who don't have dogs. The CDC recommends that we get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week—daily dog walks of 22 minutes mean that dog walkers exceed that minimum recommendation from the CDC. Still, there's more to it than just that. "Getting outside and getting fresh air and natural vitamin D is huge for our well-being, even if it's not bright and sunny out," says Laura Thomas, CPT-ACE, CPPC, of Thomas Fitness Consulting. "We reset mentally, especially if our job requires us to be indoors most of the day, as walking releases serotonin [an essential amino acid that stabilizes our moods] in our brain."
As it turns out, daily dog walking doesn't just help us improve our moods, but also helps reduce blood pressure and control blood sugar levels. Running alongside your dog is a good way to get in your cardiovascular exercises, but don't feel like you have to do more than walk at a normal pace. You can still get plenty of health benefits from daily dog walking, even if your knees won't let you do more than a leisurely stroll. "Walking helps ease joint and muscle pain—even in people with arthritis and increases muscle flexibility and keeps bone and cartilage tissues strong and healthy," Thomas says. "Walking also helps improve balance and protect against injury by building lower-body strength."
You also want to make sure that the walk is effective, both as an opportunity for exercise and as an opportunity for training and bonding with your dog. "Our dog trainer told us not to use a retractable leash. They increase injury and make it harder for you to control the dog," says Thomas. "The dog has to learn to respect you and should always be walked next to you, not in front of you, otherwise they think they are in charge. We were advised to use a front clip harness."
You should also bring along toys and treats that provide a distraction for your dog. Following basic dog park etiquette rules throughout your entire walk ensures that you and your dog both enjoy the experience. "Remember that your dogs are family members," Brian Kilcommons, author and experienced dog behavior counselor, told us in a previous interview. "You have to look at what's polite in human interactions and start there." Keep your dog safe from aggressive dogs, have verbal control of your dog, stay with your dog and keep moving, and reward good behavior. You should also choose a time of day that isn't too hot or too cold.
Once you have everything you need for an effective dog walk, you can roam the neighborhood with the confidence of knowing that you and your canine companion are getting all of the benefits of taking a walk together.
This article originally appeared on Martha Stewart Living.