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Prairie Fare: Walking a Dog Has Health Benefits

Staying active is good for both pets and their human parents.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I thought putting the harness on our youngest dog would be like saddling a greased pig. Fortunately, he was very docile and spent more time sniffing the harness than trying to slide out of it.

I adjusted the harness straps and grabbed some dog treats. Our white- and rust-colored dachshund happily hopped out the door and down the front steps.

With my hand firmly gripping the leash, my 7-year-old daughter and I were ready to enjoy the spring weather with our year-old pup. Although we were ready to walk, Louie was not. He stopped in the yard and sniffed every leaf and stick in sight. He wouldn’t move, even with a dog treat enticing him.

I guess he didn’t read the article about the health benefits of walking dogs.

In a study, participants lost 14 pounds in a year when they walked a dog five days a week for 20 minutes per day. Most of the participants were disabled and/or economically disadvantaged. They kept walking because they felt it was healthy for the dogs.

Most of the dogs in the study were “loaner” dogs. Because of the motivation provided by their furry companions, the participants continued to add activity time to their days and it showed on the scale.

To reap the benefits of dog walking, I might need to borrow a dog that actually walks on a leash.

Staying active is good for both pets and their human parents. In fact, having an exercise buddy, whether human or animal, can help maintain the motivation to continue to exercise.

Other studies have shown that interacting with pets can lower blood pressure and stress levels. Interaction with pets has been shown to improve the appetites of Alzheimer’s patients, and people with pets are less likely to feel lonely.

Not everyone, of course, wants to take on the responsibility of pet ownership. If you decide to adopt a pet, be sure to consider your own circumstances. Do you have enough space, time and money to house, feed and medically care for a pet? They like regular interaction, too. If you decide to take the plunge into pet ownership, consider adopting a pet from an animal shelter.

Of course, you do not need a pet on a leash to propel you down the sidewalk. Walking can energize you and lift your mood while strengthening bones and toning your muscles. Walking can reduce your blood pressure and reduce your risk for diabetes and heart disease.

Fitness experts suggest that we aim for 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week. These are some tips adapted from the Weight Information Network, an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  • Choose a safe place to walk. Find a partner to encourage and support each other.
  • Wear shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick, flexible soles. When you buy shoes, be sure to walk around the store before you take them home. Try to buy your shoes late in the day when your feet are at their largest.
  • Wear clothes that keep you dry and comfortable.
  • Divide your walk into three parts. First, warm up slowly, and then increase your speed to a brisk walk. Walk fast enough to elevate your heart rate while still being able to speak comfortably, concentrate and breathe without effort. Finally, cool down after your walk.
  • Break up your walk into multiple sessions throughout the day if you have a busy schedule. Be sure each session is at least 10 minutes long.
  • Set goals and reward yourself for your progress. Instead of splurging on a calorie-dense treat, see a movie, read a magazine or take time to do something else you enjoy.
  • Keep track of your progress with a walking journal, log or calendar. Record the date, time and distance.

Here’s a tasty snack to enjoy after your walk. For more information about nutrition and fitness, visit http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart.

Peanut Butter Oat Bites

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (or margarine)

2/3 c. creamy peanut butter

1/4 c. powdered sugar

3 Tbsp. honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 c. crispy rice cereal

1 c. quick oats

1/4 c. raisins

1/4 c. mini chocolate chips

1/2 c. finely chopped honey roasted peanuts

Melt butter in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds or less. Stir in peanut butter, powdered sugar, honey and vanilla. Stir in crispy rice cereal and oats, and then allow mixture to cool. Stir in raisins and chocolate chips. Measure portions with a 1-teaspoon measuring spoon and form into balls or prepare the mixture in a greased 13- by 9-inch pan for bars. Roll each ball in finely chopped peanuts, pressing to coat (or cover with peanuts if using pan). Store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 63 servings. Each serving has 50 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat, 1 g of protein, 5 g of carbohydrate and 20 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – May 5, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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