Are dog owners healthier and smarter? Studies show yes! Well, sort of.
During the past ten years, studies have revealed that exercise – movement – is key to solving many health problems. And these findings have been widely shared. Moving, even moderate physical exercise reduces your chances of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes and lowers blood pressure.
The good news is any exercise is better than no exercise. So, people are encouraged to start with just ten minutes a day, even walking.
Ten minutes a day? If you’re a dog owner, you know this is impossible. It’s too short.
My dog won’t let me only walk ten minutes day. Like most dog parents, I hit the daily 10-minute mark, about five times over.
Apparently, not everyone does. The ideal amount of exercise a week varies from study to study (and no doubt person to person). But the average is 120 minutes of moderate to intense exercise a week, or 40 minutes three days a week.
Again, no go for me and my pup. He demands to get out every day – for at least 40 to 60 minutes – and with a terrier cross, you’re looking at more than walking.
Likely, it’s safe to conclude our dogs prescribe us more than the minimum dose of heart disease prevention daily.
But there’s more. Exercise might even help keep us smarter for longer, or at least keep our brain healthier. If all systems benefit from regular exercise, it makes sense the brain does too.
In Harvard Health Publication, executive editor Heidi Godman writes, “exercise changes the brain in ways that protect memory and thinking skills.” Exercise promotes, “the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells,” she adds.
A frequently cited study by psychologist Kirk Erickson at the University of Pittsburgh reveals that although the hippocampus in the brain shrinks in late adulthood (increasing the chance of dementia), it was larger in high fit adults. The hippocampus is a small region in the brain associated with memory and special navigation.
However, the study cautions the connection between hippocampus size and memory is still undetermined.
They’re not suggesting exercise can definitely stave off dementia, but it doesn’t hurt.
Other studies suggest that it’s not only walking that makes the difference, but also getting outside.
A British study published by Countryside Recreation Network states there is substantial evidence linking the natural environment with good physical health and wellbeing. The study specifically concludes, “Nature can make positive contributions to our health, help us recover from preexisting stresses or problems, have an immunizing effect by protecting us from future stresses and help us concentrate more clearly.”
Ok, dogs have that covered too. Few, if any, would be happy to walk alongside a treadmill.
Furthermore, getting outside increases our absorption of vitamin D associated with decreased depression symptoms. According to WebMD, what makes vitamin D unique is that it is a vitamin and a hormone our bodies make from sunlight. It contributes to bone health and likely reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
Vitamin D? A coincidence?
Well, yes. It’s a coincidence. But let’s call it Vitamin Dog anyway. After all, according to the Daily Mail, Erikson recommends selecting an exercise you actually enjoy doing and you’ll likely stick with it.
Dogs check that box too.
Ok, so here is the final tally. Walking or running outside with your dog in the sunlight for more than ten minutes a day does the following:
- Reduces your chances of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
- Lowers blood pressure
- Promotes the growth of blood vessels in the brain and might decrease dementia
- Helps deal with stress and contribute to increased concentration
- Reduces the risk of cancer, diabetes and autoimmune disease
Wow. Dog owners must be the healthiest people in our society – or at the least, should qualify for lower insurance rates. Did someone say ‘walkies?’
Sherri Telenko lives with a high-energy schnoodle named Victor and publishes www.dogtrotting.net – Global Travel for Dog Lovers – focusing on dog travel, products and advice. Sign up to receive www.dogtrotting.net via email and follow her on twitter @SherriTelenko.