Walking: good for pets and people

Walking: good for pets and people

by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | .
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published: March 28, 2017

Walking keeps people and pets healthy.

Brad, a 6-foot-6-inch former athlete, had a wake-up call in his mid-30s. His doctor said he was at risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke, because of his weight and lack of exercise.

Brad's story

Brad's grandfather died of a heart attack. His father had quadruple bypass heart surgery at age 50. And now Brad was showing signs of going down the same road—for example, his doctor had told him he had a low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. You want to have high levels of HDL, which is known as the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries. The fast food, beer, and stress from work and family duties were catching up with him.

"After my two kids were born, I stopped exercising and got out of shape," says the sales executive from Oregon.

The energetic dog became Brad's running buddy and ticket to better health. Brad was committed to exercising his puppy and used the momentum to exercise himself. They soon were running together four times a week, logging a total of 20 miles weekly.Scared by what the doctor had said, Brad became faithful to his workouts again. He even started doing triathlons. However, a new job and a move across the country interrupted his routine. Then in 2013, Brad and his family adopted Buddy, a black Labrador retriever, who was born to run.

"Every time I put on my running shoes, Buddy runs in circles and sits at the door. Or if he gets into the garage, he'll go find his leash, put it in his mouth and sit there, ready to go," laughs Brad. "With the number of hours I work as a sales director for emerging markets, there's no way I'd be able to manage stress at work, responsibilities at home, and my weight without Buddy."

"In the three years since I've had Buddy, I haven't had any health issues," he proudly reports. "All the markers for heart disease are gone, and I've trimmed down to less than 20 percent body fat."

Brad says exercising and staying fit have led to healthier food choices, too. "I eat more responsibly since I've had Buddy. I would not be anywhere near the shape I'm in without him. By his doggie smile, I can tell he's happy too!"

Cynthia's story

Cynthia, a mother of three in Massachusetts, agrees that walking with pets benefits both people and animals. Her pet happens to be a miniature horse named Dakota.

Like Brad, Cynthia had a wake-up call that provided the inspiration she needed. After turning 50 in 2014, she learned she had high cholesterol and prediabetes—a condition that put her at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. She was already taking medicine for high blood pressure.

"I became very interested in living a healthy lifestyle and realized my horse could live a healthier lifestyle as well," says Cynthia. "I looked at him and said, "You need to go on a diet. If you do, I will, too!' I made a commitment to him that we would walk together for better overall health."

Cynthia realized her diet included a lot of unhealthy choices. She now eats a low-sugar, high-protein, high-fiber diet. She also reduced the quantity of Dakota's snacks. He now gets occasional treats for good behavior, not just for looking cute.

By eating a healthier diet and walking four to five times a week with Dakota, Cynthia lost 25 pounds. Dakota also lost weight and is in better shape.

In addition to the physical health benefits, walking provides a good way for people and pets to bond.

"They benefit as much as you do," says Cynthia. "He motivated me to get outside and become healthy and to get him healthy as well. I do it as much for Dakota as for myself."

She encourages others to walk their pets regularly—to improve both human health and animal health. The need is great. About half of all adults and one-third of all young people in the United States don't get enough physical activity.

Pets need exercise, too

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimated that nearly 53 million dogs in the United States were overweight or obese in 2014 and faced many of the same weight-related health problems as humans who were overweight or obese.

In 2015, the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, MD, called on people to make walking a priority in their lives. "We know that an active lifestyle is critical to achieving good overall health. And walking is a simple, effective and affordable way to build physical activity into our lives," he said.

The Surgeon General also recognized the benefits of pet ownership and how regular walks help both people and animals. Walking is a popular, easy form of exercise for most, offering proven health benefits and a low risk of injury.

What's the best way to get going? Studies show that a commitment to walking their dogs helps people put one foot in front of the other. Like Brad and Cynthia, they exercise for their animals' health as well as their own. As a bonus, they form a stronger bond with their pets—and often are inspired to eat healthier.

For more information about how to keep yourself and your pets healthy, visit www.cdc.gov.

Tags: health, walking, pets, Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, CDC, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention
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