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Prairie Fare: Walking a Dog is Good for Your Health

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Walking the dog may help you reduce your risk of some chronic diseases and improve your mental health. (NDSU photo) Walking the dog may help you reduce your risk of some chronic diseases and improve your mental health. (NDSU photo)
Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo) Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension food and nutrition specialist (NDSU photo)
Regular physical activity can help us manage our weight and reduce our risk for several chronic diseases.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Do you feel like you are in a chariot?” my husband asked.

I was walking briskly with two of our dachshunds in harnesses on a connected leash. They were happily dashing down the sidewalk, pulling me behind them. Dog obedience training never really worked too well for these two little guys.

“I need a wagon with wheels so I can ride,” I said as I trotted past my husband. He had our third, younger dachshund on a separate leash.

Soon our dogs slowed their pace and stopped to sniff anything along the path. The sights and scents of the world beyond our backyard were quite exciting. Other pet parents were out with their dogs, too, and the dogs acknowledged each other with some “woofs.”

About four blocks down our path, Jake, the “alpha dachshund” and ruler of the Robinsons’ animal kingdom, stopped and sat in the middle of the sidewalk. No amount of coaxing made him move.

I had a fleeting thought this would happen because this is his typical behavior. When Jake is done exercising, he becomes the immovable object.

I wonder if he overheard a report listing the dachshund breed among the 27 laziest. Their size and short legs affect the amount of exercise they need. I really wouldn’t call him “lazy”; he just has other priorities. If a rabbit had hopped in front of us, Jake would have chased it all the way home.

I picked up my 16-pound companion and I walked behind his more energetic brother. I guess Jake figured I needed to work on my upper-body conditioning. I finally handed over the 6-month-old-baby-sized dog to my husband to carry for a while.

After the winter, most of us are ready to enjoy the warmer weather and welcome the spring. According to current guidance, we all need at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days of the week. We are encouraged to track our minutes of physical activity and work to accumulate 150 minutes per week.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 percent of adults meet the national physical activity goal. The recommendation for children and teens is higher, at 60 minutes per day. Among high school students, just 30 percent reach the goal.

The good news: The recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week can reduce your risk of several chronic diseases.

Regular physical activity can help with weight management, reduce our risk for heart disease, and reduce our risk for Type 2 diabetes and a condition called “metabolic syndrome.” This syndrome means you have a combination of at least some of these factors: too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and/or high blood sugar.

Getting more physical activity also can reduce your risk for some forms of cancer and strengthen your bones and muscles, and it can help improve mental health. When we get regular physical activity, we also sleep better.

As we grow older, keeping our muscles and joints strong can help prevent falls. Overall, walking for fitness on a regular basis can increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life.

The reappearance of some of the formerly hibernating dogs and humans is a good sign after winter. Researchers have shown that dogs can motivate us to get more physical activity. The increase in exercise is good for the dogs and their human companions.

In 2011, researchers at Michigan State University reported that people who walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to meet the national physical activity goals. In fact, dog owners, on average, accumulated 60 minutes more physical activity than nondog owners.

The researchers also noted that people with larger dog breeds and younger dogs tended to go on longer walks.

Whether or not you have a dog to walk, be sure to enjoy the warmer weather by putting on a pair of walking shoes and heading outdoors. I plan to harness my stable of dogs and take them out on regular walks. We will start with a shorter walk next time, for Jake the dachshund’s sake.

Try tracking your physical activity for the next week to see how you do. Build to 150 minutes per week.

For more information, see “Walk This Way” (an NDSU Extension Service publication available at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn578.pdf) for some additional tips to get started walking. For example, be sure that you wear light-colored clothing so you are visible to drivers if you are walking near roadways.

How about a tasty green post-walk refreshment that’s filled with nutrition? Many of us fall short of the recommendation for dark green leafy vegetables in our diet.

Pineapple-Mango Green Smoothie

8 ice cubes

1 c. canned pineapple in juice, diced

1 large mango, diced

2 c. fresh spinach leaves

1/2 c. pineapple juice

1/2 tsp. coconut extract, if desired

If mangos are not available, substitute one banana, cut into chunks, or try mandarin oranges canned in juice.

Place ingredients in blender in order as written. Blend until smooth.

Makes four servings. Each serving has about 80 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 21 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein and 15 milligrams sodium.

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


NDSU Agriculture Communication - March 17, 2016

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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