For Exercise Buddies, Four Legs are Better than Two

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I have been a lover of animals ever since I was a tiny tot. We grew up with cats, a bird and a handful of goldfish for pets, but I never experienced the joy of dog ownership until I was in college and my roommate got a miniature daschund that I helped care for. I would feed her, play with her, take her out in the middle of the night, and take her on long walks each day when my roommate was away at work or class. It took dedication, work, and an adjustment to my schedule, but I loved that dog, and the benefits of her companionship made it all worth it. When my roommate and I went our separate ways, I knew I would have a dog of my own someday, but not until I was ready to adjust my routine and lifestyle to best accommodate the dog's needs.

However, things don't always go according to plan. Just a few weeks ago, my fiancé, Evan, found a stray dog near our home. It's not uncommon for us to chase down stray dogs, check for tags, or keep them in our fenced-in backyard until we can find their owners, so I didn't think much of it. But no one was looking for this dog that was very underweight and seemingly untrained, and by the time he had moved her from the backyard to our basement, I had a feeling she was here to stay. I wasn't sure that we had the time to care for a dog. I had always envisioned getting one in the future, maybe if I stayed at home or worked part time—not while we each worked full-time and part-time jobs that keep us away from home for long hours. After much planning, research and discussion, we adopted Ginger. My how our lives have changed over the last few weeks…

Ginger, our new fitness buddy

Evan now wakes up an hour earlier on three weekdays to walk Ginger. On the other two days, I no longer hit snooze before my morning runs—because Ginger is ready to go and needs me to exercise her. I find myself sneaking away from the office during my lunch hour to check on her and take her out for another short walk. And we take turns (based on our work schedules) exercising her every night as soon as we get home. We agreed to commit to walking (or running) our new dog for a minimum of 30 minutes, twice a day, but often, we go for 45 minutes—sometimes a full hour. On the weekends, we usually go out three or four times instead of two, and I've even taken her on a 90-minute hike with me as I trained for an upcoming Grand Canyon trip. I also find myself staying in to cook more dinners at home because I don't want to leave her alone at night, so I'm eating even better, too.

Each time I lead Ginger down the block (channeling my inner Dog Whisperer of course), I think about what a pleasure it is to spend time with my new companion. I also think about what an amazing exercise tool a dog can be. If you want to get in shape, get a dog! (OK, you need to meet a few more criteria to be a good dog caregiver, but you know what I mean.) I have a new hunch that there may be no better exercise buddy than your four-legged friend is, and recently I discovered a recent study that backs me up.

When researchers from the University of Missouri assigned older adults from an assisted living home to walk with either a human companion of their choice (friend, husband, etc.) or a canine companion (from a local animal shelter) five days a week, the dog walkers showed better improvements in fitness, exercise consistency, walking speed, and balance. Researchers say that it's easy for human fitness buddies to make excuses or discourage their partners from exercising. But dogs acted in an opposite matter: they were always ready to go each day and that seemed to help motivate their human partners to get going, too. The older adults who walked dogs increased their walking pace by an unheard of 28% from the start of the study, and many even stopped using canes and walkers as their balance and fitness improved. In contrast, subjects who chose human walking buddies only increased their pace by 4%.

Ginger is a great fitness buddy in that regard. She doesn't let us sleep in or plop on the couch because she has energy to burn and will let you know if she needs some exercise. I've always considered myself to be a pretty fast walker, even when I'm just taking a stroll or walking through a mall, but Ginger forces me to walk even faster than my normal pace, which usually elevates my heart rate into an aerobic range (about 55% of my max)—higher if we're climbing up the many hills around my house. On average, I'd say that walking Ginger has added about three more hours of physical activity to my week, and I'm happy to reap the many health and fitness benefits of that new activity.

If you own a dog but haven't walked him or her consistently, consider this a reminder that it's vital and beneficial for both of you! Just be sure, whether you're new to dog ownership or have had your companion for awhile, that you gradually increase his or her exercise time, speed and distance—just like humans should. You can't go from couch potato to marathon runner in a week, and neither can your dog. This article by Coach Jen explains how to gradually build your canine's endurance. If you and your dog are consistent walkers and feel ready to kick it up to jogging, check out this dog-running guide from Runner's World for tips and ideas.

Do you think dogs make better fitness buddies than people? Pet owners, does your dog encourage you to get more active?

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HOLLYM48 8/16/2020
Great article Report
good article Report
I have a Chihuahua x Corgi. He wakes me up every morning and does a song-&- dance when I put on my shoes. We don't run, but he's happy to walk for hours. Report
Well you pulled at my heart strings !!! Love Ginger. She looks precious. Just when you guys thought you were helping her...turns out she returned the favor big time! What an uplifting story. I'm so happy you found each other and changed each other's lives! Just precious... Report
I don't like taking one of my dogs for a walk because he can get away from me too easily since he's so big. Report
My dog is a pleasure to workout with she thinks it is a game and is always ready,happy & willing Report
You're right-they're always ready to go with you. My 4 legged companion is the best walking buddy I could ask for! Report
we now have 3 dogs - all 'unofficial' rescues. The first one (the one in my picture) had to be re-homed when he was 4 months old. We drove from GA to KY to pick him up. BEST. RE-GIFT. EVER.

the second one - well, if you have a young golden retriever and you don't have a 12 yr old kid around your house, you need a 2nd dog to help keep the first one entertained. So we heard about a stray hanging out at a school. All the parents were feeding him, but nobody could give him a forever home. We took Obie over to meet him - best friends from the moment they met.

the 3rd one was unplanned. I was at the park getting some morning exercise one Saturday (on my birthday!), and there was this little puppy sitting under one of the exercise stations. His eye was a mess. There were no other cars, no other people anywhere in sight. I called my husband and told him about the dog, and he said "do what you have to do". So I took him with me, got an emergency vet appt, and that little adventure started. He ended up losing one eye. Nobody replied to the signs I posted. And Omar makes 3!

we have a fenced yard and a dog door, so our boys pretty much entertain each other all day.

I also have a friend who took in a stray. He has a really bad back so he can't walk her. After work, on days that I don't take an exercise class, I go by and take her for a 5-6 mile walk. It helps him, she loves it, and I have somebody to hold me accountable to an 'on my own' workout. Believe me, there are days I'd rather just go home after work and do nothing...but that sweet faced girl is waiting for I gotta go! Report
I have a 13-month old, 101 lb German Shepherd named Joshua. We walk/jog most every day at least once. If I don't exercise him this way, he chews stuff! Congratulations, Ginger, on your loving and active home!!
Good for you for adopting a stray. Can't agree more. My dog is a much more reliable walking buddy than my husband! Dog has lost 6 lbs and got an "atta boy" from the vet last week!! I used to call him "sausage boy", but can't call him a sausage any more. If we take a particularily long walk, he will back up to my while I take off my shoes and get a hip rub --- he deserves it as he is ALWAYS ready to go for a walk. Report
Yep. My boys make my daily walks an extra pleasure. They are on my gratitude list nightly! Report
It looks like Ginger found herself a very good home :-)
We got Horatio (a Great Dane x) from a shelter when he was a tiny pup. He is always up for a walk or a run but doesn't have the stamina you'd probably expect. He's always ready to head for home when we are and he spends most of his time sleeping during the day too! My big problem with walking him is that I have to take the kids in the pram as well so it's either tie him to the stroller or somehow manage to hold the lead while pushing the stroller- and he's a big dog so if he pulls suddenly (to sniff something, he is very good around other people and dogs) you do know about it. Mainly we have to wait to walk him until both my husband and I are home and either able to go together or someone watches the kids while the other goes with the dog so poor Horry doesn't get walked quite as often as he'd like.
I used to run with my old dog years ago, she's a kelpie x. I knew she was getting too old for it when she started hiding when she saw me coming with the lead. These days getting between the sunny spot she sleeps in during the day and her food bowl is a challenge for her. Report
I work as a vet and loved this article. We see so many fat dogs and would love for them to get as much exercise as yours do. My dogs are huge motivation to workout and are so disappointed if I don't walk them. I hope Ginger gives you many happy, fit years! Report
I enjoy walking with my dogs. Report
When i first got Bailey, I walked him every evening after work (once he was big enough) and I dropped about 10 lbs, without changing my eating habits.

This was consistant for about a year, then the dog park down the road opened. He LOVES it there, and gets an insane amount of exercise (playing fetch) but I wasn't getting any exercise there!

This year, I have passed on the park, and now walk both my pups (Mia is new) at least 5 days a week, on top of my regular workouts, after work.

Now, they get excited when I say "Walk" rather than "Park"!!! Report
So glad that Ginger found such a good home! And that you've both found such a great walking buddy! :-) Report
I just got a puggle from a shelter and he loves to walk! Even though he's small he can walk 2-3 miles wihtout stopping so he's helping me and my husband get some much needed exercise every day! Report
My parents recently got a terrior mix (aka an energizer battery on four legs) and she can run and play TIRELESSLY. After being taken for a walk, she will still rush out into their backyard and run 10-20 laps around the perimeter of their fence before she'll finally settle down. Ah, to have that kind of stamina! Report
I have six cats, and they just don't want to exercise. I must have been a cat in my last life!! LOL Report
I love walking my two dogs when I am home from school. They are both big dogs and can easily go on an hour long (or longer) walk with me. I am going to miss walking with them so much when I go back to school this fall and I am definitely going to be losing out on two big motivators. : (

BTW I love the fact that you took in a stray. One of my dogs was abandoned at a shelter (they just tied her to the post out front and left her there) and the other was being neglected by its owners so we took him in. I think taking in unwanted animals is so rewarding and such a good thing to do. Report
You are sooo right! Dogs don't know about the weekend and sleeping in! I am sure that I look lovely on Saturday a.m.'s when I am not in the usual attire for work and have no make-up on when I take Lacey out for her morning stroll!!!

I understand completely about exercising with your dog.I started out with friends and they have slowly fallen away.Its been a long trip down , but Ive dropped about 100 pounds in three years.My dog never has a headache or anything else and is always pushing me to go too.. Report
I loved reading your blog,Ginger is adorable! Congratulations! Report
How lucky for both of you to have found eachother...and you will be rewarded with so much love and companionship. My mom just got a puppy and between the potty training and playing with her I've had quite a bit of exercise lately. Report
What a beautiful dog; how could anyone abandon her? She's lucky she found you. Talk about "a dog's life" :-)

I don't like walking just for the sake of walking but my dog motivates me to go out and enjoy the trails in our local parks. He's a big strong GOK ("God Only Knows" although there's definitely some lab in him) and loves to pull so I'm using a "Gentle Leader" head halter. Works like a charm. I wouldn't let him off-leash in our area; too much wildlife around. Report
MSAEBARRON - It takes some dogs a while to get used to a leash when they haven't been using one before, but usually they figure out that the leash is a necessity to be put up with in order to enjoy being outside a yard and getting a great walk around town. Be kind but persistent! It worked for us.

Also: some dogs are so enthusiastic about the attractions of their surroundings that they will PULL instead of walking nicely. I recommend a good firm-but-kind obedience school (eg: you might be giver of reward treats for good behavior during a walk), so the dog learns to pay more primary attention to your wishes when you decide to make them known and secondary attention to their surroundings. Report
To quote so many, I'm sure: Ginger is adorable!

Kudos to you for rescuing and adopting that sweet, nice dog! We have two dogs ourselves (one is a rescue!), and on days when we haven't been able to make time for any other exercise, they are still willing and enthusiastic to go for a quick walk or run with us. They are not just excellent exercise buddies, they are affectionate family members who add so much to our lives in so many ways, so full of that legendary unconditional canine love.

Congratulations to you and Ginger for finding each other! Report
Ginger is adorable! Glad you found each other. Report
Yes, I love to walk/jog with my dog! We got him from a shelter about two years ago. It has taken almost the whole two years to get him to cooperate with jogging, but now he's really good at it. We compromise. I have learned to let him have his way for half a mile so he can "read his newspaper" (sniff everything), and then he's content to stay with me. I wrote a blog about him called "The Faithfulness of a Dog" back in May. I'm glad you're enjoying your dog! Report
Ginger is a lucky dog. I'm so happy she found a home with you. I've adopted a couple of strays in the past. Who knows what would have happened to them if they weren't adopted by us? Report
Ginger is a lovely girl, unfortunately my dog is handicapped (only 3 legs) and he cannot go as far as I can with walks, so he encourages me in other ways (licking my face while I do crunches and such). Report
I just recently started walking with some friends and my lab/pit mix. I was really excited to get him out as he gets 99% of his exercise in the backyard. We had a blast on the beach - him and my friends dog loved running after each other and going into the water while me and my girlfriends walked through the sand (great butt workout btw!). My only problem is that my lab HATES being on a leash - my boyfriend is the official owner and never trained him to be leashed. One of my friends let me use her pinch collar which worked well to a point and my pup didnt seem to be bothered by it, but as time went on he seemed to not care about the collar and tugged on the leash for the better part of an hour which was very distracting and quite frankly annoying. Any advice on how to get him more used to the leash so that he doesn't fight me through the entirety of our woorkout?? Report
I would really LOVE to have a doggie, but until I have a fence around the yard, I can't. But when I do, one day soon, it will be a daschund , maybe 2. I grew up with a Springer Spaniel, LOVE those dogs, and then my dad got Tobie. As a kid I NEVER needed to walk a dog, we lived in the country, we were always doing chores or playing out doors. The dogs could run around to their contenment. Those were the days! Report
My dog loves to run, and she sure needs the exercise. Isn't that the first thing the "dog whisper" does with his "problem" dogs on the TV show. I wonder if we sould do that for ourselves and our kids, how many of the "problem" behaviors would be better controlled or even fixed. My dog lies on the floor sleeping after a good run. Report
My dog is a great running companion, sure helps me train for triatlons. Now we just have to work on her biking skills. congratulations on being such a dedicated dog owner, very few people are that committed to the exercise requirements of their dogs. Report
Ginger is so cute! She is lucky to have you! Report
I took my first run with my dog buddy this morning. We fast walked 2 miles. I think we can go further, but it was a good start. I have an Australian Shepherd and he needs more exercise, so its a good motivator. Report
Yes as their love comes unconditionally and they are always ready to laugh, and play with you whether it's running, playing tag, catch or just sitting under you. They make us understand what living and life is all about, no worries there! Report
My rottie is the best workout buddy ever! He loves to get out of the house-especially to go to the park!-and motivates me to do the same! Report
We have 6 Maltese dogs, (they are like potato chips, you can't have just one!) and the only problem I have is trying to just pick one at a time to walk! They all want to come! Doesn't matter what the weather or how I'm feeling, they are always there with a happy tail wag and a "come on let's go!" bark! Report
AWESOME Nicole, I'm so glad that it's working out for all of you. I know I should walk my big girl (83lbs) more. She is a couch potato and I'm not to far behind her this week(getting over broncitis). My little girl (6lbs) is to hard for me to walk right now, I'd be tripping over her with every step of the way.

I would think that dogs make better fitness buddies, just on the fact alone they are always ready to go for a walk when you want to go and they even beg you to go with them when you truely dont feel like going.

Dogs are indeed great motivators and walking buddies. I have one, too. Congrats on her new addition! Report
I have labs and have not had to exercise them except in back yard. but i think i will start walkimg them. Or perhapes them walking me. This would be a great start and motivational option. Thanks for bringing it to my attention just getting started with walking. Report
My dogs are my walking buddies. They are so eager to go with me that they motivate me. I just can't disappoint them. Report
When I had a dog, I was a teenager, I walker her everyday and for an hour each day. She really loved it as much as I did. I also taught her dog training which I took her to once a week and we practiced all the new things they incorporated that week. She not only learned to be obedient but she got her exercise in and we bonded really good. I will never forget my dog. I think if I had a way to the humane society I would walk their dogs too. Report
I loved this blog and look at how many others feel the same way. My dogs have motivated me out the door in a similar way. I have a golden and he is very laid back (no surprise in that is there?) Then a year ago we adopted a Gordon Setter who was neglected and needed a home. Silly me. I had no idea how demanding a hyper hunting dog can be!!! We have walked every day; sometimes 2-3 times a day to soothe her need for activity. This has been the absolutely best thing for my health. It is so amazing. I just can't say no to her. I mean that literally because when she wants to go she starts howling (sounds like a hound) and she won't quit until we are out the door. Talk about an exercise coach. Max the golden also lost weight and is in better shape as well. Report
Dogs do make fantastic companions...not just good walking buddies. Pity my apt. complex really does not allow animals...although I have been known to sneak a dog or 2 for short term periods as I volunteer at the JSPCA. Dogs and their funny little behaviour really bring about a peaceful calm in my life and they make you laugh more, and if they could talk, I am sure they could probably provide some wonderful they are also wonderful listeners. Congratulations on saving a dog from a possible life of misery....and most of all, they give unconditional love. Report
Anyone knowing me or visiting my Spark Page? Knows the Hound Pack has been my greatest support and motivation for 5 yrs. Helping to remain at or near my 50+ weight loss. Despite our trails, dangers, and my chronic health issues they've stuck with me and I with them. Report
I miss my golden retriever. I wasn't running at the time I had him but he did run along side as I rode my bike. Report
My main motivation to begin to exercise consistently again was my dogs. we all got out of the habit of regular walks during the winter (ok, they wanted them but didn't enjoy them once we got outside...), and gee, we all gained weight over the winter... and the dogs were really depressed and bored and stressed out most of the time. Now I make sure to get all 3 of us out for at least 30 minutes of fast walking a day and usually 45 minutes and we are all happier. Report