Benefits of daily walks with your dog(s)

Benefits of daily walks with your dog(s)

This photo was taken on my favorite stretch of my favorite trail in my favorite State Park in Tennessee. If you were to scroll through my photos app, it would be very evident that my dogs are a big part of my life. It’s also evident that most of my favorite photos and memories are from a walk/hike in my neighborhood or in one of the many State or National Parks we have visited over the years.

Recently, I wrote an article about the benefits of daily walking for the human and for the dog. For me, the benefits are intertwined, but I decided to create two articles instead of one. Interestingly, my research reinforced what I already knew: the benefits of daily walking are very similar for the human and the dog. For this article, I will focus on the dog … or dogs in my case.

“If your dog is overweight, YOU aren’t getting enough exercise.”

Health benefits

The number one reason most dog owners walk their dogs is for the health benefits gained by a daily walking routine. Just like a sedentary lifestyle is bad for humans, it’s especially true for canines. Dogs need to get outside and move every single day. (I would argue that humans have the same need and I wrote about it here.) All humans have different exercise needs and the same can be said for dogs. However, just because you have an older dog or a breed that “doesn’t require that much exercise,” do it anyway. At 16 yr old, my Golden/Lab mix, Kaley, had a tough time getting around, but 3-4 times a day she went out and made a lap around the house (not the neighborhood). Those old bones and joints needed a little lubrication so they wouldn’t freeze up.

Keeping your dog trim and fit should be a high priority and walking is a perfect way to do that. It is estimated that about 50% of dogs in the United States are overweight and 25-30% of dogs are obese. Sadly, many veterinarians won’t tell you if your dog is overweight (seems this is a touchy subject for the human) and most kibble feeding instructions call for more than the average dog actually needs. Not a good combination. Please don’t be one of those people who is proud to tell anyone who will listen that your lab weighs over 100 pounds. I have encountered these people and their poor dogs were visibly uncomfortable and easily 25 pounds overweight.

Walking your dog is about so much more than just “potty breaks.” Walking your dog provides mental stimulation, physical exercise, chances for socialization, and opportunities for behavioral training.

Every walk is an adventure. New sights, new sounds, new smells.
All need to be checked out and explored.

Mental stimulation

Sadly, I am aware of a few dogs in my neighborhood who never see anything but the back of their house and 3 walls of fencing. Never. In my very humble opinion, that’s abuse. In addition to the health benefits of walking, every dog should have the opportunity to explore life beyond the fence. Pippin never tires of seeing one of the gazillion squirrels we encounter every single day. I tell her that she has seen a gazillion squirrels and THAT one is no different. Pippin thinks otherwise. Every walk is an adventure. New sights, new sounds, new smells … all need to be checked out and explored.

The olfactory sensors in a dog’s nose are amazing. Dogs have evolved to have a strong sense of smell, with approximately 900 genes that code for smell receptors, versus humans, who have fewer than 400. They also have 125–300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our 6 million. In addition, the part of their brains that analyses and processes scents is (proportionally) 40 times greater than ours. The brain power necessary to facilitate all that analysis and processing is huge and you will find that a short time sniffing can tax them as much as an hour long walk.

All of this blah blah blah, or facts, just reinforce that your dog has a NEED to smell his way through his environment on every outing. Every single day.

It’s time to walk the Goldens!

Training opportunities

“How do you teach left and right?” I get asked this a lot. There are many ways to teach this and one way I reinforce their understanding can be as simple as telling my dogs “left” or “right” as we are walking. I then look for a head turn in the correct direction, add a “good” or “yes” marker and we are on our way.

Walking three dogs is always a balancing act – three leashes and three dogs who don’t think straight ahead is very interesting usually keeps me on my toes. I say usually because we have tumbled a few times when a dog (or two) have wrapped themselves around me. Stop is a helpful word which gives me an opportunity to unwind myself before we get moving again. Daily we work on Close, Side, Behind, With Me, Come, Wait, Sit, Break, Cross the Street and Cool Off (we love most sprinklers). We are usually out for an hour each morning so why not use the time for more than just walking?


It is a mind bender to think that I have been walking with dogs just about every day for almost 40 years. There are days when I feel like the guy from the Dunkin’ Donut commercial ohhhh so many years ago. But, instead of “it’s time to make the donuts,” my version is this: “It’s time to walk the Goldens”. There are days I curse the fact that we don’t have a fenced yard, but mostly I embrace that fact that walking the dogs is and hopefully always will be a constant in my life.

It would be tough to overstate the importance and health benefits of daily walks for (you and) your dog. The amount of exercise a dog needs varies based on age, breed and health — it can be as little as 30 minutes a day or as much as a few hours — but virtually all dogs need exercise in some form. However, I hope you get the idea and will also take advantage of the many resource articles listed at the bottom of the page.


When I am out walking, especially with three dogs, a frequent comment is “who’s walking who?” I just smile and say “We are walking each other.”

Just as it should be.


Resources

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/the-benefits-of-walking-your-dog

https://animalfoundation.com/whats-going-on/blog/importance-walking-your-dog

https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/how-find-your-dogs-body-condition-score

https://www.thewildest.com/dog-lifestyle/how-often-do-you-walk-your-dog

https://www.thewildest.com/dog-lifestyle/tips-hiking-with-your-dog

Obesity in dogs. A major health threat hiding in plain sight.

Geek out on this great study:
I Walk My Dog Because It Makes Me Happy: A Qualitative Study to Understand Why Dogs Motivate Walking and Improved Health

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/how-dogs-use-smell-to-perceive-the-world

https://www.purina.co.uk/articles/dogs/behaviour/understanding-dogs/dog-sense-of-smell

Suggestions to help keep your sanity, peace of mind and immune system from running off the rails.

Suggestions to help keep your sanity, peace of mind and immune system from running off the rails.

Let’s start with this:

“The number of prescriptions filled for anti-anxiety drugs spiked 34% and orders for anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications also increased from mid-February to mid-March and peaked around March 15, according to a new report released Thursday.

The increase “demonstrates the serious impact COVID-19 may be having on our nation’s mental health,”…

– Webmd.com article found here

While not totally surprising, it’s still a sad statement and in many ways could have been avoided. I’m not going to debate the necessity of the stay-at-home orders. My research and findings are about how we can all stay sane and keep our immune systems healthy and happy.

Everywhere I have looked, I continue to see references to immunity. The vast majority of deaths attributed to the virus were people who had one or several underlying health issues and therefore were immunosuppressed. So, obviously, staying healthy means maintaining a healthy immune system. 

Let’s start by looking at some of the signs and symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety and fear. 

Stress and Chronic Stress

  • Irritability, which can be extreme
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • feeling helpless
  • a perceived loss of control
  • frequent infections or illnesses

Find more information about stress at webmd.com here

Depression

  • Loss of interest in otherwise pleasurable things
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Aches, pains, cramps
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight

Find more information about depression at healthline.com here

 Anxiety

  • Panic attacks
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Pounding heart
  • breathing problems
  • upset stomach
  • extreme fatigue
  • increase in blood pressure
  • muscle aches and other pains

Find more information about anxiety at healthline.com here

Fear

  • sweating
  • trembling
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • pain or tightness in the chest
  • headaches, dizziness, feeling faint
  • confusion or disorientation
  • fear of losing control
  • feelings of dread
  • fear of dying

Find more information about fear/phobia at nhs.uk here

After researching and compiling these lists, what I find most interesting is the similarity between all four. When you review the lists, do any of these sound familiar? I think most of us would (sadly) have to say “yes.”

 If you are experiencing many of the symptoms from any of these lists, I hope you will seek professional help. I am not a doctor — and I don’t even play one on TV — my goal here is to provide information that might prompt you to do some research to help improve your own personal condition. Another goal is to help you find NATURAL ways to help calm you and improve your overall well being, which can also boost your natural immunity.

So, how can we improve these symptoms of stress, depression anxiety and fear so that we feel better AND help boost our immune systems?

This one didn’t make any of the lists, but I think it should: turn off the “news”!!

“It’s important where you get your news” someone recently told me. I couldn’t agree more. But instead of arguing about which talking head is telling us fact or fiction, how about we just turn them ALL off? Ingesting too much “news” is a major culprit of increased stress, anxiety, depression and fear. Sadly, instilling fear seems to be one of MSM’s (main stream media) favorite games these days. Tuning OUT/turning OFF all of the chatter will be helpful to all of us. 

#1 on many lists: Be Observant.

I like this one. Instead of ignoring your body, listen to it! Check the list of signs and symptoms again – my guess is that you will find a few things that you are struggling with. Understanding what is happening might help you find the right solution to feel “better” or “normal” again. Hopefully some of the suggestions offered here will help you manage and improve the symptoms. 

I recently wrote an article about how to boost your immune system. Interestingly, the list to help you reduce stress, anxiety, depression and fear has a few crossovers to the list I wrote to help boost your immune system. Check out the list here and think about adding a few of the activities to your daily routine. Hopefully, that list and the suggestions I offer here will not only help you feel more relaxed mentally and physically, but will also strengthen your immune system.

Get Outside and Exercise

This one is so important that in addition to the article I wrote about boosting your immune system, I felt compelled to include it here too. Just about every article I read about how to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and fear included exercise. Why is that? Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones – such as cortisol – and helps release endorphins, which are chemicals that improve your mood and act as natural painkillers.

I don’t know about you, but there were several nights when I was really struggling to sleep. My mind was racing, and I was unable to shut it down. Luckily, my 3-ish mile morning walks with my dogs allows me the opportunity for fresh air, sunshine, time to think/meditate and to give me the ability to commune with nature and neighbors. Pippin’s energy now has us doing an additional 30-minute walk at night and it has really helped me to shake off much of the day’s stress. All very good stuff.

So, take a walk, get on a bike, dance to your favorite music or practice yoga. All of these activities will help improve your mind and body. And, if you are outside, you get the extra benefits of fresh air and sunshine – both HUGE immune system boosters.

Check out more great information about how exercise can reduce stress from the Mayo Clinic here.

Read a Good Book

When was the last time you visited a library? I know most of us will buy online but there is something truly awesome about a library. If you don’t want to leave your house, there are a gazillion online outlets for downloading books to read and books to listen to. I recently discovered Chirp, which offers discount audiobooks. First, I downloaded several self improvement books and then I treated myself to a classic and one of my favorites – A Tale of Two Cities. For almost 17 hours, I was consumed by the awesomeness that is Charles Dickens. If you haven’t read a classic in a while (or ever) I highly recommend you pick one and learn why it has withstood the test of time. Here are some great options.

Get your hands dirty and grow something!

“Getting your hands dirty is actually a good thing. The more soil you get under your fingernails, the more you are exposing yourself to bacteria. And, the more bacteria you expose your system to, the harder it will be for them to invade your body.”

– stress.org article found here

Lucky for me, I seem to have inherited a green thumb. Both of my grandmothers were gardeners and if you drive by my mom’s house, there is no doubt that she loves the chaos of flowers of every color beautifully arranged around her yard. And, I don’t know about you, but I just can’t wear gloves when I am working in the yard. I need to *feel* the dirt and the roots and leaves and the flowers. My guess is I have probably ingested a bunch of dirt along the way too – not on purpose, but if you have dirt/potting soil up to your elbows and your nose itches, things happen. Turns out that can be helpful too. I absolutely love this.

Another great thing about gardening, as if there aren’t enough great things already, is that when you are busy digging and planting and watering and enjoying, you are actually doing a form of meditation, which will help to create a sense of calmness and well being. My Grandma Mitchell used to hum while she was gardening. Maybe you will too.

Learn a New Language

If someone could explain the allure of Candy Crush, or any repetitive “game” like that, I would appreciate it. If I have some free time, I prefer to read and actually learn something. A few years ago, I discovered Duolingo – a free program that will systematically guide you through the process of learning to read and speak a new language. I kinda fell off the wagon when I had my hip surgery, but I am hoping to pick it back up soon. I really enjoyed the learning process. So maybe try Spanish one week, French the next week and one of the 22 other languages they offer during the third week and then decide which one really speaks to you. (Ha – pun intended). You can get started here.

So there you go – SIX great ideas to help you relax, refocus, and reenergize:

  • Tune out the Noise.
  • Pay attention to You.
  • Move your Body.
  • Engage your Mind.
  • Grow Something.
  • Learn something New.

I hope this information will help you find something that will calm your mind, body and soul. There are links to just about every source I found/used, but if you would like more information about anything listed here, please feel free to contact me.