Lucy, My Exercise Secret Weapon

By Dr. Robin Miller, MD

Lucy, My Exercise Secret Weapon

I love to walk. But now that the weather is getting cold and wet, I just want to stay inside under a blanket. Fortunately, I have someone who will not let me do that. She is relentless and she pesters me until I get off the couch. Her name is Lucy. She is a German shepherd basset hound mix (I know it sounds impossible and a bit strange, but it is true).

Related: How walking benefits your whole body.

Her front legs are shorter than her back legs, so she hops. At times walking is not easy for her, but walk we do— two or three times a day. How can I beg off when she needs it to keep her joints agile and she wants to do it even though it is sometimes an obvious struggle for her? And in spite of all her doggy disabilities she is always happy, and she makes me laugh. I have no excuse.

The truth is, Lucy keeps me in shape. And whether we’re walking or not, she also helps me stay calm and control my stress. These benefits are among many reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. Pets can lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels; reduce stress; help maintain social engagement; and prevent loneliness.
 
Lucy doesn’t know this, but studies have been done that looked at the health benefits of having a dog. Here are some of them:
  • One study found that among people who suffered a heart attack, dog owners were more likely to be alive a year later regardless of the severity of their heart attack compared to those without dogs.
  • A study looking at married couples found that pet owners had lower heart rates and blood pressures even in times of great stress than those without pets.
  • A third study found that dog owners who regularly walked their dogs were more physically active and less likely to be overweight than those who did not own or walk a dog. Older dog owners had better mobility inside and outside their homes.

Dogs are also great for helping people to be more social. They provide companionship, and people are always stopping dog owners to pet their animals and chat. Those who feel connected and engaged live longer.

If you are having trouble getting motivated to walk when it is cold, wet or snowy or you are feeling a bit lonely and out of sorts, then I suggest you go to your local humane society and find your Lucy. There are so many dogs that need a home. They can be a great comfort and your secret weapon to get fit!