The one activity to do with your dog that will make you happier and healthier
I run with my dogs, Stevie and David, every morning for at least an hour. This was an important part of our family routine before the pandemic, but now it feels crucial. I’m pretty sure that getting a lot of exercise and spending time outdoors is keeping us all sane. And, as it turns out, research suggests that exercising with dogs has both psychological and physical benefits for humans. Here’s the case for why you should be working out with your dog.
First of all, people with dogs get more exercise than other people, anyways. A 2019 study of close to 400 households in the UK showed that people with dogs exercise for about 300 minutes a week, while people without dogs only exercise for about 100. The study, which was published in the journal Nature, also found that people who had dogs in their home were generally more fit. For sure, people were definitely more likely to spend time walking and playing with their fur family, but they were also more likely to exercise solo than dog-free people. This all adds to my theory that people who live with animals are happier and hotter than everybody else. Thanks, science.
I am one of those people who gets a lot of exercise regardless, but there are still activities that I don’t really enjoy without my pups – like running. I will run alone, if I’m traveling or something, but hitting the pavement without Stevie and David feels less like a fun morning adventure and more like a chore. I spoke to a bunch of people who feel the same way about exercising with their doggos. “Ever since I started running with Carmen, I can’t bring myself to run without her,” says Gayle Kees, a marine science student in Baton Rouge (and incidentally my best friend). Carmen is her 2-year-old catahoula lab mix. “It’s worth it even if I end up running the last leg with a bag of poop swinging from my hand.” Truly, what else is so much fun that you would do it with a bag of poop in your hand?
Working out with your dog is also a good way to find the companionable exercise experience we’re all missing since the gyms closed. “Even the disruptive things like licking my face while I’m doing plank or positioning her entire body right over me while I’m doing sit-ups are helpful because it feels like camaraderie,” Kees says. I could definitely use some encouragement in my fitness routine, and I’m cool with it if it comes in the form of slobbery licks. Jump squats definitely feel easier because my dogs think they’re hilarious.
“You’re not only for exercising yourself, but you’re being a responsible dog parent,” says Shoshana Bochner,a financial director in New Orleans. Shoshana runs with her dog, Hygge, six days a week; it makes her happy to know that she’s making Hygge happy. “Hygge is depending on me to get her exercise every morning,” Bochner says. “That’s a major motivator for getting me up and out of the house. Then we both feel good for the whole day.”
Feeling like you’re doing something that betters the health of your fur baby feels good, and it’s also a strategy that research has shown to be effective in motivating humans to exercise. In a 2014 study at Purdue, researchers studied the dog walking behavior of 49 middle-aged Americans. They sent half of the participants emails educating them about the health benefits of walking their dogs and half served as a control group. The half that received the emails walked 8 times the amount of time as the control group – 80 minutes a day versus only ten. In other words, making people aware of the exercise needs of their pets encouraged them to work out, too.
But some days it’s hard to muster the enthusiasm to work out. I know. But working out with your dog can make the mundane entertaining, and that can be really good for your mental health. “Since a large part of why I exercise is for endorphins,” Kees says, “the feel-good aspect of working out while joking around with someone is more important than I had realized.” Amen. You don’t have to be a bro-ey jock to get swole with your up, just try to do active things that mean fun fur family time. So, if like so many of us you’re feeling a little lonely and soft in the couch potato area, maybe it’s time to get a dog.