For those of us who have the pleasure of owning a pet, the benefits are fairly obvious. Pets offer unconditional love, listen to us without offering needless advice, and make fantastic snuggling companions. But with approximately half of the pets in the U.S. being overweight, they, like us, could use a little more exercise.
Most of us are aware of the vast benefits of spending time outside on a daily basis. If you have a dog yet lack a large yard, being outside becomes a requirement. So if you have to walk your dog several times a day, why not use the time to your benefit as well? Try to speed up your pace along your normal route. Try alternating your quick pace with some speed walking or a light jog. Find a route that includes some hills or other challenging terrain. Add some high knee lifts, butt kicks, or lateral skipping if you are not embarrassed by public displays of exercise. Or simply try adding 5 minutes onto your quick-paced walk every week, until you are up to an hour. The added calorie burn will be worth it.
If you are a bit more daring, try hiking or running with your dog. There is the obvious increase in caloric expenditure for both of you, but also an increase in cardiovascular and muscular output that will definitely pay off. Look for soft surfaces—like a trail or dirt track—to help protect your joints, and remember that hot pavement is really painful for dogs’ paws. Also, there are special harness-type leashes out there that keep your hands free and make running with more than one dog much more bearable.
It’s all fun and games.
Playing with your pet can be great exercise and fun for both of you. If you have a yard, or live near a local dog park, all of this is much easier. Of course, it can be done in your living room, but it might be a bit dangerous for the furniture. Try playing fetch, but race your dog for the ball. Just throw and start running. Or play tag by chasing your dog around the designated area. If your dog is on the strong side, grab a rope and try some tug-of-war. If you’re considerably stronger than your pooch, try tugging while standing on one leg, and using only one arm. Create an obstacle course, and run it with your dog. Find a ball and a wall, and play a version of handball mixed with “keep away”—from your dog. Practice your tennis swing and let your pup retrieve the ball.
Just doing something playful can make a normal workout feel like you are back on the playground with your four-legged best friend. How can it get better than that?
Train the dog, or train the owner?
This is not a section on teaching a dog to sit or training your spouse to get you a drink from the fridge. This is about using functional resistance training to manipulate your mutt’s musculature, along with your own. Try the following exercises with some help from Fido.
Stand on both feet, hips-width apart, with your dog’s favorite toy in hand, but hidden from view. Shift your weight onto one foot, keeping the other foot’s toes just off the ground. Now show your pet a favorite toy. Try bending your standing leg and lowering the toy to touch the ground in front of you. Once you lose your balance, or your pup gets the toy, switch to the opposite leg.
Squat and Toy Press
For this exercise, use your dog’s favorite toy or a small weighted medicine ball. Start with your feet hips-width apart, and in a parallel position. Bring the toy or ball to your chest. Squat down deeply with your butt going parallel to the floor, and your knees staying behind your toes. As you extend your knees to stand back up, throw the toy or ball into the air, and try to catch it before your mutt jumps up and grabs it! Repeat until one of you gives out.
Sumo Squats for the Critter
This workout is similar to the Squat and Toy Press. Only this time, you start with your toes pointed slightly outward, making sure that your knees line up with your toes. Hold the toy or ball in both hands, with arms extended straight down toward the floor. As you bend both knees, bringing your seat parallel to the floor and keeping your arms straight, lift the toy directly over your head. As you straighten your knees, jump off the ground a few inches and return the toy to the down position. Hopefully, your mongrel will continue to jump for the toy until your quads have hit exhaustion.
The idea is to set yourself up in a push-up position, with whatever modifications you require to do many repetitions (on your knees, against a wall, etc.). Lift one hand and throw a ball. Do as many push-up repetitions as possible until your pet returns. Repeat the toss with the opposite arm.
Laser Creature Crunch
Domesticated animals seem to be fascinated by laser pointers. Get into a comfortable crunch position on the ground, and hold the laser pointer in both hands. Begin doing 10 crunches with the laser on your chest, and of course, pointed away from you. Watch your pet go nuts trying to chase it in the process. Every 10 reps, alternate arm positions behind your head, above your head, and even to your knees. Your dog will go insane, and you will have abs of steel!
These options depend completely on the level of stillness your pet can provide. For my two dogs, playing dumbbell just ain’t gonna happen. But I have many friends with extremely trusting animals that love to be bench-pressed. Should you try to press, curl, dip, or lunge your best friends, do it relatively close to the ground, just in case they change their minds.
There’s a study that shows people with terminal illnesses are three times less likely to suffer depression if they own a pet. Pets are amazing stress reducers and loneliness decreasers, and have actually been proven to lower blood pressure. They also make us more social creatures, as we meet new people on walks, at parks, etc. If you add a pet to your household, your life will be dramatically enriched. If you are unable to make a lifelong commitment, borrow a friend’s dog for a day, or look into a short-term fostering program. And there are hundreds of organizations out there that could use volunteers to walk the dogs they are sheltering. That way, you get some exercise, and make a difference at the same time. Whatever you do, integrate some canine or feline time into your exercise regimen, and watch the change occur. Now that is doggone good!
By Stephanie S. Saunders