Exercising with Pets

A four-legged buddy can help keep you healthy

By A. D. Lively

Exercising with Pets

Strolling with canine companions can be relaxing and stimulating at the same time. (photo by FreeImages.com/Dora Harvath)

Researchers have long known that exercise is beneficial to human health, but they are increasingly recognizing that healthy physical interactions with animals boosts people’s physical and mental health.

“Engaging in physical activity with your pet improves human health, it improves optimism — it changes the brain structure,” says Philip Tedeschi, a clinical professor and human-animal interaction specialist at the University of Denver in Colorado.

Dog kayak

McMurtrie’s dog Maybelline enjoys river kayaking with her. (photo by Jessica McMurtrie)

 

It releases oxytocin into the brain, Tedeschi said, which in turn can improve optimism and increase interaction and feelings of connection. “It causes people to be more empathic or more warm and trusting,” he explains.

Jessica McMurtrie, an academic administrator and fiddle player, credits her dogs with motivating her to get outdoors. McMurtrie and her dogs Maybelline and Buster exercise together daily, whether they are in a city park, exploring nature at the family cabin in Lost River, West Virginia, or headed out on an adventure to a new location.

“They definitely make me more active since we walk, hike and kayak together,” says McMurtrie, who lives in Baltimore. She also notes their psychological benefits, saying her dogs “keep her sane” and make her happy every day.

Many people prefer to exercise outdoors with their pets by engaging in traditional activities like hiking, running, cycling or dog games like “fetch.” However, the number of indoor and specialty options for co-exercising with your pet is rapidly growing.

Specialty classes like doga (yoga for and with your dog) and canine-friendly boot camps, obstacle courses and cross-training workouts are becoming increasingly available around the country through companies like Leash Your Fitness in San Diego and Go Fetch Run in San Antonio and New York. Most are in metropolitan areas, but those in rural areas can find books and DVDs on the subject.

For many people, electronic activity trackers like Fitbit are currently shaping daily fitness routines. This trend is also being reflected in pet fitness, with pet owners outfitting their four-legged workout friends with gadgets like Fitbark, which syncs with a smartphone or computer, or the Whistle, which offers built-in Wi-Fi. For the fashion-conscious owner, there’s even Wonderwoof, an activity tracker disguised as a dapper doggie bow tie.

If you want to enjoy exercising with a pet without owning one, contact animal shelters near you. These organizations often need volunteers to help take dogs on walks or runs, and you can help socialize a potentially adoptable pet at the same time.

About the Author

A.D. Lively is an Arkansas-based writer specializing in health and wellness.

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