You’re a couch potato and you readily admit it. Sure, you have a gym membership, but you can’t remember the last time you used it. It’s a beautiful mild late winter day, so you could take your golden retriever out for a walk. She nudges you hopefully, but you just pat her head, grab the remote, and settle back to watch CSI reruns. Fitness isn’t that important… right?
A recent Forbes report identified 66% of the United States population as being overweight. A third of Americans don’t engage in a regular fitness regime. The numbers are almost as bad in Canada, where a Globe and Mail report said that 59% of adults are sedentary and 48% are obese.
As we impose our lifestyle on our dogs, showering them with treats while forcing them to stay housebound, many are suffering the same effects. According to Claudia Kirk of the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, 40% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight. Again, the cause is too much food and too little exercise.
“In today’s hectic world, it’s a challenge for many people to find time to ensure their dogs get adequate exercise,” says Claudia. “And in our culture, we often equate food with love without being aware of potential adverse health consequences.”
First steps to fitness
Healthy, lasting weight loss in both dogs and humans should ideally come from lifestyle changes. If you commit to a fitness plan that includes your dog, research shows that both of you can reap the benefits.
A Duke University study showed that regular exercise can reverse many of the effects of inactivity. According to exercise physiologist Jennifer Robbins and her colleagues, it doesn’t have to be an intense workout. Something as simple as a brisk walk with your dog can counteract the couch potato effect, and your canine friend’s health will improve right along with yours.
An effective fitness plan starts with specific goals and incorporates steps to reach them. Don’t make your goals too lofty; if they seem intimidating, you might give up too quickly. Instead, focus on small lifestyle changes. As you achieve each goal, you can add another one.
For example, your initial plan might start with two goals: cutting down on treats for yourself and your dog and taking him for a walk at least three times a week, staying out for at least half an hour.
In order to cut down on treats, impose limitations on when you give them to your dog and when you eat them yourself. For your dog, instead of handing them out indiscriminately, link them to specific tasks. Before giving a goody, have your dog perform a trick or show his manners by sitting and staying for a minute or two.
When you get the urge to treat your dog at other times, simply pet him instead. As much as canines appreciate cookies, they also love attention. Soon your dog will accept this new, healthier substitute. For yourself, identify times when you are consuming empty calories. Do you always have a bowl of popcorn when you’re watching TV? Do you automatically pop open a can of soda in the afternoon? Just as you have restricted your dog’s empty calories, impose the same rule on yourself. Make a snack an after-workout reward or a weekend treat, not a daily expectation.
To meet your walking goal, schedule the time on your calendar the same way you would any other important commitment. Pencil in alternative dates in case something comes up, such as a nasty late winter storm, but don’t allow yourself to cancel your walk for anything other than the most urgent of circumstances. Make the walk an adventure by varying your routine. Walk new paths, or drive to another neighborhood. Search out dog-friendly parks and trails. Instead of being a chore, each walk will become a time for discovery.
Remind yourself that it’s not just about your dog. Regular fitness is healthy for you, too. Besides helping your muscles and heart, you are also taking some time to simply relax and enjoy your dog’s company. Don’t dwell on work or worries. Release all your thoughts and revel in the simple pleasure of being outside in the fresh air with your canine companion.
Raising the bar
Once you have implemented the new treat feeding procedure and regular walks, it’s time for a new goal. For example, switch to healthier treats. Why not try vegetable-based snacks for your dog and yourself? For walk time, work in one longer session per week, or commit to visiting a dog park on a regular basis.
As you achieve each goal and it becomes habit, you’ll have made another stride towards battling weight gain and breaking free from the statistics. Instead of being a bad influence on your dog, you’ll be creating a healthier future for both of you!