My Exercise Secret Weapon: Walking My Dog

Learn how your favorite four-legged companion can help keep you healthy, mentally and physically.

Array of dogs, dachshunds and beagles, being walked on urban sidewalk with legs of walker in the background

Medically reviewed in January 2023

Updated on January 5, 2023

I love to walk. But when the weather is 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 and Basset Hound mix. (I know it sounds impossible and a bit strange, but it is true.)

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 mobility limitations, 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. Regular walking or playing with pets can help lower their humans’ blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. They can also help reduce anxiety, 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, published in 2019 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, found that among people who suffered a heart attack or a stroke, dog owners were more likely to survive compared to those without dogs.
  • A review, published in Current Hypertension Reports in 2022 found that pet ownership had a positive effect on cardiovascular health. In the review, owning a pet reduced the risk of coronary artery disease, as well as the risk of death from stroke and heart attack. It also potentially helped control blood pressure.
  • A third study, published in 2019 in Scientific Reports, found that people in the United Kingdom who owned dogs were four times more likely to meet the current guidelines for physical activity.

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 tend to 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 or animal shelter 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!

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Stay Healthy Around Pets. Published September 16, 2021. 
National Institutes of Health. The Power of Pets. NIH News in Health. Published March 6, 2018. 
Mubanga M, Byberg L, Egenvall A, et al. Dog Ownership and Survival After a Major Cardiovascular Event. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2019;12(10). 
Surma S, Oparil S, Narkiewicz K. Pet Ownership and the Risk of Arterial Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease. Current Hypertension Reports. Published online April 22, 2022. 
Westgarth C, Christley RM, et al. Dog owners are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than people without a dog: An investigation of the association between dog ownership and physical activity levels in a UK community. Scientific Reports. 2019;9(1). 
Vila J. Social Support and Longevity: Meta-Analysis-Based Evidence and Psychobiological Mechanisms. Frontiers in Psychology. 2021;12. 

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