Home » Topics » Academics » FIT LIFE: Want to get in shape? Get a dog

FIT LIFE: Want to get in shape? Get a dog

heatherhausenblas.jpg small
Heather Hausenblas, associate professor of kinesiology in the Jacksonville University College of Health Sciences

There are many reasons almost 40 percent of U.S. households own a dog. Dogs provide constant companionship, give us unconditional love, make us happy and less stressed, teach responsibility to kids (and adults), and provide safety and entertainment. And caring for a dog can even help you live longer.

Another reason to own a dog is exercise. Not only are dog owners more likely to take regular walks with their dogs, but dog owners are more active overall and less likely to become obese than people who don’t have pooches.

In fact, a 2014 study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost 61 percent of dog walkers met physical activity guidelines, compared to 37 percent of non-dog walkers. Another study published in 2013 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health revealed that dog owners spend about 160 minutes a week walking their dog. Why? Dogs are powerful motivators to get people outside and moving. It is hard to resist that wagging tail.

And dogs may be ideal personal trainers because they are energetic, loyal and enthusiastic. And, unlike your exercise partner, who may cancel your workout session because of work obligations, bad weather or being too tired, dogs never give you an excuse to not walk.

This positive effect of dog ownership on physical activity is evidenced at all ages – even kids. Researchers from The University of Western Australia in 2013 found that children with a dog are about 50 percent more likely to achieve the recommended level of weekly physical activity and 32 percent more likely to have walked in their neighborhood in the last week, compared with non-dog owners.

If you’re looking for home exercise equipment that will not collect dust, you may want to forget the treadmill and consider something with four legs and a wagging tail. Man’s (and woman’s) best friend can help many of us become more active and healthy. You need to walk, and so does your dog. It’s a win-win situation.


Since they are the most popular physical activities for American adults, which is better – walking or running?

Data from more than 49,000 adults in the National Runners’ and Walkers’ Health Study reveals that people who expend the same amount of calories — regardless of whether they are walking or running — have similar health benefits. However, running may be the better bet for those looking to lose that spare tire. Researchers from Syracuse University found that mile for mile, running burns about 2.5 times more calories than walking. So for a 160-pound person, running burns about 800 calories an hour, compared to about 300 calories an hour walking. The bottom line: beyond losing weight, walking has similar health benefits to running, such as a reduced risk of hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Fit Life, by fitness and healthy aging expert Heather Hausenblas, associate professor of kinesiology in the Jacksonville University College of Health Sciences, appears the first Monday of each month in the Outside section of The Florida Times-Union. E-mail your questions to hhausen@ju.edu. For more on JU’s Department of Kinesiology, visit ju.edu/COHS.