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Woman and dog: How dogs can help you lose weight

5 Ways Your Dog Can Help You Lose Weight

Dogs are man’s best friend, as they say. But canine companions also make excellent accountability partners when it comes to weight loss and fitness goals. As soon as your dog hears the word “walk,” he’s waiting by the door, perhaps with the leash in his mouth, ready to get moving. (Don’t you wish you could channel that same level of enthusiasm for early morning workouts?)

“Dogs offer people motivation and inspiration to get more active,” says Marnie Kunz, C.P.T., USATF- and RRCA-certified run coach and founder of Runstreet.com

Most dogs require daily walks, so responsible dog owners will get their steps in even on those lazy days, or overcast ones where they may have otherwise skipped going outside if it weren’t for their pet parenthood obligations, Kunz says. She’s lost 11 pounds herself since adopting her dog in spring 2020. Even better, her daily step count is now double, or even sometimes triple, what it was prior to getting her dog.

From the extra walks that help you achieve your step goals to hiking with your adventure buddy, here are five ways Fido can help you reach your weight-loss goals and contribute to your overall wellness

1. They Hold You Accountable

In North America, approximately 25 to 30 percent of dogs are obese, which can put them at an increased risk of osteoarthritis, urinary bladder stones, heart disease, and other health conditions, according to VCA Animal Hospitals, which has a network of veterinarians across the United States. If you and your pup both need to shed some pounds, approaching the goal together can improve your weight loss success.

Confirming that dogs can, indeed, help their humans lose weight (and vice versa) is a small study involving 60 dog owners that was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Medicine. Researchers concluded that there are mutual benefits of weight loss programs for dogs and dog owners. As for the humans in the study, the mean percentage of weight loss was 5.3 pounds over the course of eight weeks. Give your accountability partner some head pats and perhaps a reward like these Daily Greens Natural Dog Treats that are like a version of green juice for dogs, but chewable.

Read More: How Your Pet May Benefit From CBD

2. They Improve Your “NEAT”

Overall, dogs help you improve your non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, Kunz says. “NEAT is all the things we do that expend energy in daily life that are not sports or fitness, eating, or sleeping,” she explains. ”NEAT is a big determinant of our daily caloric burn.” 

So what this means is that in addition to the extra exercise you’re getting with your dog, like the Saturday morning hikes and the weeknight walks, your dog helps you get in more non-planned movement, too. Think about those spontaneous breaks you take throughout the day to toss the ball to your dog or play tug-of-war with a rope toy. That’s NEAT. Or those short little walks when your dog needs a potty break? Also NEAT!

3. They Make Walking A Necessity

Dog owners are four times more likely than non-dog owners to meet physical activity guidelines, which call for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, according to a large-scale study published in Scientific Reports that involved 385 households. The study found that most dog owners spend about 300 minutes each week walking with their dogs, compared to non-dog owners who spend 100 minutes per week walking. (It makes sense: If you don’t want your dog to pee on your carpet, you better get them moving outside.)

“Walking is the easiest thing a person can do for weight loss and good overall health,” says trainer Donovan Green, C.P.T. and owner of Donovan Green Fitness. “When it comes to walking for weight loss, you should aim to do at least 30 minutes of walking each day if you are just getting started.”

If you and your dog are already in a routine of going for walks, try adding 50 percent to whatever you’ve been doing previously to get more steps in, says trainer Robert Dodds, C.P.T., founder of online fitness service Nothing Barred Fitness. (For instance, if you go for 30 minute walks, up it to 45 minutes).

Here’s a good baseline for how many calories you burn walking, according to Dodds, who notes that this can vary by person: 

  • 1,000 steps: 44 calories
  • 5,000 steps: 222 calories
  • 10,000 steps: 444 calories
  • 20,000 steps: 888 calories

Walking is an aerobic activity, so for the most benefit you want to be in a heart rate zone of 70 to 75 percent of your max heart rate, says Jack Coxall, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Fitness Lab, which operates personal training gyms. But go ahead and let your dog amble about and stop and sniff because pace doesn’t matter too much—the biggest benefit is that you’re out walking, Coxall says.

4. You Can Do Actual Exercises With Them

In addition to daily walks a couple of times a day, there are exercises that you can do with your dog, says Coxall. However, know this: Some dog breeds are more athletic than others, so you need to know which activities are within your pet’s wheelhouse. (The American Kennel Club has rounds ups of dogs that love to run, dogs that make great hiking partners, and dog breeds that are a fit for athletes).   

Hiking, especially if the incline is steep, can help you torch more calories than walking. Dog agility training (which involves swiftly directing your dog through an obstacle course) and running with your dog can also help you lose weight, Coxall says. 

Read More: 6 Tips For Losing Weight Without Counting Calories

5. Dog Ownership Is Associated With Good Heart Health

Having a dog could also be great for your heart health. The American Heart Association’s journal Circulation put together an analysis of studies that show pet ownership could lower blood pressure and obesity. 

Separately, an analysis that reviewed 10 studies and was published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that dog owners live longer. Those who own dogs have a 24 percent lower risk of death at any given age, and they have a 31 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, the analysis found. 

Considering all these health benefits that your dog can inspire, it’s fair to say he’s a very good boy.

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