The JanUary campaign is about doing something good for you but what about doing something that not only helps you but also your furry friend? Although a dog is unlikely to make you to eat less, put down those sausages (even though they may be able to say the word) or provide you with motivating pep talks, they can encourage you to do more exercise and thus help you to lose weight.

In the UK, almost a quarter of households own a dog, but less than half of adults meet the recommended level of 150 minutes a week of physical activity. That’s roughly 21 minutes a day. Most people spend far more time than that just watching television. Dog owners are 50% more likely to reach this recommended level of physical activity per week and many of them exceed that.

That said, it is easy to assume that all people who own dogs are more likely to take exercise, but the reality can be very different; an estimated 40% of dog owners don’t walk with their dog. If all people who owned a dog walked with it every day, physical activity levels would be much improved, benefiting the health of both the owners and their canine companions.

All dog owners will know the reaction their dog has when you pick up their lead or say the magic word ‘walkies’. If all people who owned a dog walked with them for at least 30 mins per day, they would be easily exceeding the recommended minimum physical activity guidelines (for the humans at least – there are no clear guidelines for dogs).

There are a large number of reasons why people do or don’t walk their dog. Some of the reasons people don’t walk their dog include;

  • They own an old or small dog, or one with behavioural problems
  • No nearby pleasant public spaces for walking
  • Not being allowed to let their dog off the leash

These problems can be addressed. Some people are worried about their dogs’ behaviour and may be less likely to take it out to the park – potentially out of embarrassment or worry about how it might act – but lack of walks may also be causing this bad behaviour, due to boredom, frustration or lack of socialisation. Regular walks, as well as other forms of exercise, can also help reduce or eliminate any of your pet’s destructive chewing, digging, or scratching. No matter the size or the age dogs, like humans, they need appropriate exercise too.

You can’t magically create public spaces for dog walking where there are none. That is a problem to be addressed by our local authorities and town planners. It sounds obvious but if there are no nearby nice places to walk you may have to put in a bit more effort and take your dog in a car or on public transport to find one. There are also many websites and forums available that can help you find the perfect place to walk your dog.

Ideally dog owners would like to see to their dog running free and they can in certain areas though for a variety of reasons this is not always possible. What makes dog walking enjoyable to the owner is seeing your dog having fun and being able to let your dog off the leash enhances that. However if there is nowhere appropriate walks can still be made enjoyable for both with games and tricks, as well as freedom to stop and have a sniff.

Dog owners are more likely to walk if they are more strongly attached to their dog and feel that it supports and motivates them to walk. I’m sure your dog would appreciate you taking time out of your day to spend some quality time together. Dogs also encourage us to meet up with and talk to other walkers, providing further incentive not to skip the exercise today.

Finally, when you are overweight you are not at your healthiest and the same can be said for your dog. Interestingly owners primarily walk their dogs not for their own fitness but to meet the needs of their dogs – but they end up benefitting as well so we have a lot to thank our pets for!”

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About the Author

Dr Carri Westgarth is currently in the final year of a Medical Research Council Population Health Scientist Research Fellowship at the University of Liverpool Department of Epidemiology and Population Health. Her fellowship is entitled “Understanding dog ownership and walking for better human health:”

This post by Dr Carri Westgarth originally appeared on January 15, 2016 on the website of University of Liverpool.