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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I always had dogs growing up here is S.CA. When we didn't have one I went around our neighborhood asking if I could walk their dog for them. I didn't ask for money but 3/4 of the people that I walked their dog for them paid me about $2 or $3 a week. That was a lot of money back in the 60's. I currently have one dog Phred, my other one Lucy having been very sick, I had to put her to sleep on the 9th of March this year. Lucy loved to walk when she was younger and I took her every night for over an hour. I am still trying to get Phred use to the streets, he has always been a nervous dog around noises. He has improved a lot over the couple of weeks. I always like to walk with my dogs and they love it too. Only wish some of the people around here would bring poop bags and clean up their messes. I always do. Report
For sure dogs are GREAT companion when it comes to walking. I have three that I have to walk separately because of their personalities and strength-- I for sure feel bad when I don't give them that daily walk they need so much. Report
Nicole, that Ginger looks like a super sweetie too! Just a few minutes ago I was posting Gdy2shuz on how I will more often go out with Pixie because she loves it so much and I owe her, more so than I owe myself. LOL. We hike regularly on one of the great hiking trails the Tobermory to Niagara Falls Bruce Trail passes my home. Pixie can't manage the stiles or the stairs up or down the rock face. How many calories do I burn climbing a 48 step spiral expanded metal stair carrying a 45 lb dog? LOL. Good thing she is not a squirmer. Report
I have 3 siberian huskies - ages 2 yrs., 1 yr., and 3 months old. So, yes, the amount of energy in my house definitely encourages me to be more active. A nice long walk of at least 30 minutes (but they definitely feel like the longer, the better) makes their day. It also makes mine because, since they were bred to sled, they pull me into a faster paced walk every time. Report
Yes a dog has been great for my exercise. We have a Australian Sheppard who is almost 2 and she gets walked twice a day for 30 min each time and sometimes more! Report
My dog would knock me down if I tried to run w/him! ; ) Report
I have two golden retrievers and have started walking with them again (instead of just playing with them in the yard or dog park). It is good for all three of us. Report
I adopted Dave last July, that first month of walking him I lost 13 pounds, we dearly love him and he's always up for a walk or three a day. He's our constant companion and had made even my husband more active by getting him out too. Dave doesn't like to be alone on his walks now so he waits at the door and just looks at you with those sad brown eyes till you get up and go out with him and then we always end up laying a game of chase. What a motivator a good ole dog can be. Report
Congratulations! I have a cat who is a wonderful, calming influence. As an exercise motivator she is a negative influence. Cats generally sleep about 16 hours a day. She is getting older and maybe sleeps a little more. Often I come home and she is in (our) bed sleeping next to the pillow. It's such a cute picture that I have to resist laying down with her. She is a natural at yoga. Report
my dogs are way too old for that 13 and 15 years old. When they were younger it was not really good due to they wanted to stop every 10 steps and sniff around...not wanting to just walk. Guess I will stick with my hubby for a walking partner for Report
I would love to have a dog! I just don't feel like I have enough time to devote to training, etc. since my fiance and I both work full time. We tried a dog about a year ago and ended up with pee and poop all over the place and everything in sight chewed up. Not fun. Report
It's impossible for me to run with my dog because he's not fixed and he likes to mark every tree we pass. Most of the time I have to carry him on my run so I can get some real mileage in. Ha! He weighs 8lbs so I'm also getting more endurance training in while carrying him. I love him even though! Report
I cannot have a dog as I live in an apt. with a no dog policy. My parents dog died from old age and then they moved off the farm, so didn't get another dog. I miss walks with dogs. When I lived in the NWT my cocker spaniel and I had a great routine. I'd get on my bike and we'd go for 5miles - he'd love the run and I had a great workout. We both missed it in the winter and when summer arrived, get all excited to pull out the bike. When I moved south I gave him to close friends who lived in the same city as me. I'd go over almost daily and take him for walks. Dogs are definitely great motivators. :) Report
Hear, hear! My dog, Gracie, is my best motivation to walk. She does not take not for an answer. Thanks for a nice article. Report
My 11 year old "shelter special" is still full of energy and loves to go for walks. He also provides the unconditional love that no 2 legged companion can ever give. A win-win situation! Report
We relocated to a home with no yard and no way to fence in an area since we are on a golf course. We share our home with a Dalmatian and a Wire Fox Terrier. The Dal is bred to run 40 plus miles a day with horses and a carriage. The Fox Terrier can run with the hounds and go into the hole after the fox or other burrowing animal. Four to five times a day they take me for a walk. Rain or shine, heat or cold, my walking buddies are ready with wagging tails. They need me to walk them and I need the encouragement to get out there and walk! No, I am not walking 40 miles a day, but we do some obedience and agility training to help them work off their energy. Report
Love this story! Ginger is a cutie!!! Report
Personally I need the option to back out of anything. If I feel like I HAVE to do something, that is exactly when I am never going to do it. So having a fitness buddy (of human or canine kind) just makes me feel too pressured and then I end up not doing anything. I will forever be a solo exerciser. Report
I'll caution this with making sure your dog is a fitness-friendly dog. I have a chihuahua and a pug...neither of which can take long walks (because of their size & the pug's breathing set-up). I wouldn't trade my babies for anything though...they're GREAT companions & relieve stress, so they're good for the whole family...I just leave them home when I go for a 5 mile run. :) Report
Soooooo cute! We rescued a pit bull from the streets, too (check my page for about a million pictures). Our CC is always ready to go for a walk or run, ALWAYS. She is a great motivator. Report
I want another standard poodle, the only breed I can live with because of allergies, but I have to move first - my building believes dogs end at 25 pounds, and I believe they start at 50 pounds. I prefer a deep-voiced bark. When I was 8 we got a standard, and my parents and I all walked him, separately. Come to think of it, my father's health deteriorated, and my weight gain started, after the dog died - no more walks. Report
I have 3 dogs myself; 2 inside and 1 out. My dogs are like my kids except they don't talk back or ask for money! LOL Having them motivates me to walk alot more since they need to get out of the house too. Now that the kids are grown, my dogs have helped keep me company and are great listeners when I need someone to talk to. They are excited to see me whether I'm just outside for 5 minutes or gone all day at work.

Getting a dog is one of the best decisions I have made. But getting a dog is a huge responsibility. Anyone considering it should have the time and patience to care for a dog and give it love back. They will love you unconditionally. Report
Ginger is beautiful and I am glad she has a great home. I am a doggy mommy to two standard poodles they love to walk. I am also a doggy grammy to a Australian sheep dog and a hound. I love them all. Report
There are a lot of dog lovers here at SP--and many teams for people who own a dog, mixed breed or specific. We have all known about all of the advantages of sharing our homes and lives with "furbabies." We have 4 dogs--3 of them rescues--and they are part of my big goal as I go through rehab. It is great to see the statistics in the study regarding dog walking, because it verifies what I have been thinking about walking my basset hound, Lady. Thanks so much for giving Ginger the home she deserved and for sharing this information with us. Report
Oh YES! We recently got two doodles....a dog that is another breed mixed with poodle. I'd heard so many wonderful things about this type of dog that i knew when we could this was the kind i wanted. Like in your case, that came much sooner than we expected as two doodles became available for free and they won our hearts. We had our first one for only a month before getting our other one. Right from the bat I knew we had a problem/solution....these dogs have energy to spare! They have to be walked daily for an hour+ each time. Problem- hubby leaves really early in the AM so I have to get up to walk them. Solution- this adds exercise to my day. These guys are awesome exercise partners. I have tried working out with friends or my hubby and they are ready to quit before I am. Or they make excuses, like you said, as to why we should go for coffee instead of to the gym. These wonderful little furbuddies don't have any excuses they just know they want to go. Report
I have 2 dogs,a GSD and a Great Pyrenees and we do a lot of walking.
Four times a day for about 30 min.or more.When I am working outside they are outside with me.I would never walk that much on my own. Report
Fun article Report
Sadly our Annie is feeling her age so our walks together aren't much of a workout for me, but I still enjoy the pleasure of nature and her loving companionship. Report
Dog are wonderful companions for all sorts of reasons. Report
YES!!! My "granddog" has been my walking partner for 2 years (he is 110+ pounds) and we go at a pretty good clip (about an 11 minute mile on average). He is great to walk with and I feel very protected and he insists on getting his walk daily--rain, shine, snow, freezing cold!!! I wouldn't trade the time I have had with him and he has made us both healthier!!!! Report
No way -- can't afford it! Report
Ginger is one lucky pooch! Dogs are great companions. Always happy to see people no matter what. If only I was as great as my dogs think I am!

Unconditional love feels so good! Report
Congratulations on adopting Ginger! I am a dog mommy and sorry, I take offense to the words "dog owner"!! Jack is part of the family and a great fitness buddy! He always wants to go on a walk and not only is great for cardio, but also for strength training since he is terribly strong and his 2nd favorite activity is playing tug! LOL! Enjoy your new family memeber and give her lots of love!!budy Report
I love and miss my dog Onyx. A great buddie. Report
OH, my yes! I have two young Bichons(puppy-mill rescues) who power-walk me at 4-4.5 mph around the neighborhood at every opportunity. (I also have a 15 year-old rescued Bichon, whose fast days are over--he does my cool down with me). My buddies don't speak "lazy;" are unimpressed by "too busy;" and totally unconvinced by "we'll do it later." I canNOT face 4 sad eyes, so I walk. Report
These kinds of stories are so good to hear. My husband & I have rescued 2 dogs & 3 cats. They are all so loving & make us really enjoy life more. I have to admit that I do not walk the dogs as often as I should. This just gives me alittle more motivation to start. Good luck with your new family member Report
Ginger looks like a little sweetie! So glad she found a home with such caring people. And it looks like she'll keep you on track with your exercise too! Report
i have a pit bull named leroy and hes a great dog, but he never took to walking on a leash very well, my husband can control him, but not me, so he wouldnt make a good walking companion for me, and i have a little housedog who will fight to the death if you put him on a leash, so i guess my companion will have to be of the human kind Report
This is so true - I have a little Lab/Basset mix (bassadore) - who since I have started doing Couch 2 5K gets excited when I put on gym shoes & is getting pretty good at holding off on her 'sniffing' breaks until my walking portion - she is a great motivator and always ready to go. I also have a cat that I'm certain would love to go on walks with us. Thanks for reminding us what great buddies our 4 legged friends are. Report
Congrats on your new exercise buddy. It sounds like you are going to have a long and very happy relationship. We do not have a dog at this time, but intend to get one once we settle down a little more permanantly. Report
It's nice to hear that others have the same great situation as I do. I have a Golden Retriever (Chloe) that I got as a puppy and I've been walking every day since. There's no staying on the couch at night. We go out for a quick walk (about 15 minutes) at 5:00 AM or so. Then I have to get to work, but as soon as I come home we go again for 20-35 minutes. Then we go out once again before bedtime for about 20-30 minutes. I've been tracking our walking and we've walked an average of 38 miles per month together over the last year.
Lately it's been the only exercise I'm getting for various reasons. She certainly makes me walk faster than I would otherwise. I didn't think it would be cardio exercise, but the way she wants to go I end up jogging about half the distance. So it's wonderful and healthy. We have a good time together. Report
My fitness buddy's name is Ginger too. We got her a year ago from the local shelter. She and I run at least 3 days a week and my husband walks her the days I don't run. We love her very much! She has A LOT of energy and is so much fun to play with. Dogs are awesome!! Report
I have 2 cats that help me when I do my workouts so it's not only dogs. Report
Dogs make the best fitness buddies. They are always ready to go, no matter what the weather. I can't wait to get home in the evening to take my "girls" for their evening walk. It makes me feel so good seeing how much they enjoy it. I even go further just to make them happy! Report
Sad to say, but my dog is a car hound. She enjoys our walks, especially at the weekend when they are more for fun than "business", but she always runs to the car first. Report
Your Ginger is so Beautiful!
I know she has the perfect parents who walk and run her the way that her breed needs to be!
Your a Great Mommy!
Lots of luck to all 3 of you! Report
I walk my Cocker Spaniels every morning and evening. When I first got my first puppy he looked sooo sad in the mornings as he watched me get ready to leave for work. I thought , well he will just lay around all day. It seemed pretty dull of a day. Then, I began walking him in the mornings ,(not just the evenings). He then looked happy:) in the mornings and tired.

Dogs are always ready for their walk. I hadn't thought of it like that before. Report
What a pretty fur baby she is! She is lucky to have found you! Report
Great article, thank you so much!

I have my dog Puzzle, we work out together. We also use Cesar Millan's approach, which forces me to be a leader for him and a leader can't just spend the day on the couch, right?!!

Just a quick reminder for all those that consider dog ownership: go to your local Humane Society / pet shelter / adoption center FIRST, sadly still some 80% of pets turned in or found by animal control have to be put to sleep because there are not enough people wanting/willing to adopt them.
Adopt a dog, make a difference in his/her life and they sure will make a difference for the better in yours!

Btw., Puzzle is former "death row candidate" from the local pet shelter and my best friend for the last 6+ years.

Again, thanks for a great article in all aspects!