There are plenty of studies that show that walking the dog is good for you. A dog pretty much always wants that walk more than you do. Your enthusiasm and commitment is positively reinforced by the dog. Besides, if you DON’T walk the dog, there are immediate negative consequences. You’re cleaning the carpet, or repairing the chair that the restless dog ate.

For us humans, though, avoiding that exercise session has consequences that gradually creep up until they pop around the corner and say “BOO!” It’s the sudden heart attach at age 45, an abnormal fasting blood glucose level or diabetes diagnosis, overburdened knees needing a knee replacement, or just loss of muscle mass and strength. Avoiding physical activity is much too easy for many of us in the United States. I have a desk job (although a certain amount of fetching and carrying means that I don’t actually sit for eight hours straight) and it’s very easy to discover that I haven’t moved much at the end of the day. Walking the dog is the one activity that I do the most consistently. Because he needs it, even when it’s raining or hot or I’m exhausted.

People who have dates to walk a dog instead of a human partner actually do better: the dog doesn’t justify a night off and rarely has a negative attitude. Somehow, this carries over to other areas of life as well. Dog owners get more exercise overall, even after subtracting time spent walking the dog, according to Michigan researcher Reeves. Pets, in general, tend to help improve their people’s health through other means too. Petting a dog or cat can reduce stress and blood pressure, both of which help protect your heart and brain. Owning a pet can also reduce your levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, other risk factors for hearth disease and stroke.

Walking the dog may also have tiny little benefits that you might not recognize: do you meet your neighbors? (I did. The dog has even made friends with a medium size child.) Do you enjoy being in green spaces? Does your increased activity level help you maintain your plan for weight control, or give you a sense of accomplishment? The routine of the activity may also help contribute to overall healthy habits. Walking the dog may be relaxing, even as it consumes a little more of your precious time, or simply be a small slice of peace in your day. No demands, other than one foot in front of the other.

I, as it happens, live with a large dog who needs and adores his walks. In previous phases of life, though, I have not had a resident dog. What’s a girl to do?

    • volunteer for an animal shelter (nothing like a 7:00 am walk on a Sunday morning to start your day off right!)
    • offer assistance for ill community members (church, clubs, neighbors)
    • borrow a friend’s!

Allergies? Well, there are other ways to motivate yourself, but that’s another post. In the meantime, smile benevolently at responsible pet-owners walking their dogs. If you have a dog, walk/run it. Just keep in mind that an unfit dog needs a gradual increase in activity levels like an unfit human… not too much at once!