You count calories with your cousin, hit the gym with your girlfriends, and commiserate with your cubicle mate. But according to a new study, you’ve left out a vital component in your weight-loss support network: A jog with your dog.
Researchers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Wellness Institute in Chicago tracked 92 overweight and obese people for a year as part of “The PPET Study: People and Pets Exercising Together.” Results of the study were published in the October 2006 issue of Obesity. Thirty-six of the study subjects were paired with their obese dogs; the other 56 participated in the study alone. All of the people received diet and physical activity counseling, and the dogs were fed a calorie-controlled prescription diet.
At the end of the year, 61 percent of the pet owners were still participating in the study, compared with 58 percent of those without pets. The pet owners exercised 3.9 hours a week compared to 3.5 hours a week for those without dogs and spent two-thirds of their total physical activity time with their trusty companions, leading researchers to conclude: “Consideration of social support for weight loss of family members, friends, and coworkers should be extended to include pets.”
Before you lace up your running shoes and leash up your dog, consider these pet exercise tips from the Partnership for Animal Welfare and the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:
• Dogs like routines, so if you establish a regular exercise time, you’ll never have to self-motivate–your dog will beg you to get up and get going.
• If you want your dog to run rather than sniff the flowers, try using different leashes. One leash signifies sniffing and potty breaks, while the other means serious jogging only. Your dog will soon learn the difference.
• If your dog is a puppy or a big breed, don’t jog for long periods of time. It’s too hard on their joints.
• If your dog is a bulldog, boxer, Pekinese, or other breed with a short nose, opt for frequent but short walks to limit breathing difficulties.
• Asphalt and concrete can be too hot for furry feet, and rocks and gravel may cause cuts. Monitor your dog’s pads for cracking and wear.
• Dogs overheat easily, so avoid exercising with them on hot afternoons, and make sure to carry water for them.
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