If you're a dog owner, you probably think you’re doing your four-legged friend a favor by taking him out for a stroll. Turns out, the benefits are mutual.
Eager canine companions virtually guarantee their humans walk daily, even when you’re tempted to stay home because of flares, lousy weather or plain old laziness. “Walking a dog doesn’t require paying installments, putting on a leotard or going to the gym,” says veterinarian Marty Becker, an adjunct professor at Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Plus, your walking buddy never spoils your fitness routine by going on vacation,” he says. And consistency, such as sticking to daily walks, is key when it comes to gaining the benefits of exercise.
Research shows that a persistent pooch can result in a thinner owner. One study found that dog owners spent nearly double the amount of time (an average of 300 minutes per week) walking for health compared to those lacking a canine companion. Others show that dog-walking can knock off as much as 14 pounds in a year.
That is particularly good news for people with arthritis. According to Robert Kushner, clinical director of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity at Northwestern University in Chicago, even a five-pound weight loss can improve mobility and quality of life. “Walking is one of the best things people with arthritis can do both for their joints and general health,” he says.
Which Breed is Best?
When it comes to selecting furry friends, choose wisely. You may want to avoid very large or active breeds; exuberant young puppies; dogs bred to pull, such as Siberian huskies; or those known for energetic characteristics, including some terriers.
Instead, Dr. Becker advises looking for smaller dogs, such as Boston terriers, Havanese, pugs and toy poodles, or breeds known for obedience, including beagles, cocker spaniels, greyhounds and Labrador retrievers. Even better, adopt a middle-aged dog from an animal shelter, where staff have already vetted the animal for temperament.
Say “I need one that loves to walk, doesn’t pull and isn’t erratic,” suggests Dr. Becker, and your new walking program is ready to go.
Make walking the dog easy on your wrists and shoulders by using joint-friendly leashes and attachments.
If your wrists and hands are severely affected and painful, you can still walk your dog by using a hands-free leash. The Buddy System is a leash that wraps around your waist and has optional attachments available, such as the Extra Buddy to add a second dog or the Lunge Buster to absorb the shock of a sudden tug or stop.