A professor of mine once asked, “Why does everyone on the Internet seem to love cats?”

The simple answer, I responded, is that everyone with a dog was outside. It seems there is research now to back up this claim.

Our best friends need us to take them on regular walks, hikes, romps at the dog park. But, we need them, too. They keep us humans active. It turns out man’s best friend is also man’s best workout partner.

The University of Missouri-Columbia is home to one of the nation’s top schools of veterinary medicine. There, they are currently gathering and analyzing data on the relationship between dogs and humans.

One of their studies focused on humans who started out with 10-minute walks three times per week and progressed to 20 minutes, five times weekly. Participants lost an average of 14 pounds each.

There are even fitness centers and programs building this conclusion into their principles. Places like Leash your Fitness in San Diego, K9 Fit Club (found in multiple states) and doga classes like the ones Annie Appleby teaches all encourage human and dog to work out together.

Many already active people choose dogs because they make good partners in nearly everything. Need a backseat driver? Dog. Hiking pal? Dog. Reminding you to take out the trash before they eat it? Dog.

But if you’re thinking about shedding some pounds yourself, find out if your local shelter has a dog-walking program like the one in Columbia, MO.

The Central Missouri Humane Society pairs participants with adoptable dogs and, every Saturday morning, they go walking. The people get outside and the dogs get to be properly socialized among dogs and humans. Plus, they learn important leash manners.

And to the cat owners up in arms about my joke? The California Health Interview Survey found in 2008 that it’s true. Out of 41,514 Californians, dog owners are more likely to walk for leisure: an overall 18.9 minutes more per week than cat owners.