Thursday, 29 September 2011

Your dog, your personal trainer

Studies show dog owners are more likely to exercise.
Even when I'm feeling lacklustre and bed feels like the only place in the world that makes sense for me to be, a glimpse of my dog is enough to get my arse out the door and pounding the pavement. He really is my best exercising buddy: no moaning, keeps me on my toes and has a bit of a laugh with it all.

What's more, according to experts, studies have identified that as a dog owner, I'm more likely to walk more, walk faster and enjoy an active lifestyle with my pooch in my life.

"I'm fascinated by what a great motivator dogs can be," said Dr Sandra McCune, co-editor of the book, The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for People and Pets.

According to McCune, an animal behaviorist based in Leicestershire, England, studies indicate that if you're a dog walker, you are more likely to meet the guidelines for daily activities.

Dogs are the reason behind 66 per cent, of the walks their owners take each week, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 adults commissioned by pet food company Mars Petcare.

Experts estimate that 25 per cent of people with children and pets regularly visit parks and other outdoor spaces because of their dog.

"Personally, I have a Labrador," McCune said. "When it's dark, when it's raining, the dog needs a walk, every day."

She said dog walking also strengthens social and communal ties. "If people go out with a dog, they're more likely to have a conversation," she explained.

According to the poll some 44 per cent of dog owners aged 65 and older exercise on a weekly basis because of their dog.

"Dogs are strong drivers of social capital," said McCune, explaining that social capital is a sociological term which she defined as the value of all relationships.

"Dog ownership benefits the entire community," she said.

As workout partners, canines can offer energy, enthusiasm, and the social support so crucial to sticking with an exercise program, according to Shirley Archer, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.

"Dogs can provide that companionship," said Archer, a Florida-based fitness instructor. "Frisbee tossing, ball throwing, agility competitions, dog and human boot camps, are great opportunities to be active," she said. "But obedience training is a must."

She cautions that as living creatures dogs need to be taken care of.  "If they ride with you on a bicycle, they need to be trained to stay close," she said. "Keep them hydrated. Check their paws. Don't let them run right after they eat."

Laura Cartwright Hardy, a grandmother and full-time graduate student living in Little Rock, Arkansas, has two huge German Shepherds. "I've had big dogs since I was 20 and that's definitely been part of the reason I've always been fit," said Hardy, who started lifting weights in her 30s so she could carry 40-pound (18.14-kg) bags of dog food with ease.

"They certainly keep you honest about walking," she said. "Those big brown eyes make it impossible to say no." She added that every human walking partner she has had, except her sister and her husband, quit because she went too fast.

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