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The Benefits of Exercise: Why You Should Walk Your Dog

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

When I was growing up on my parents’ farm, we would’ve never thought of walking our dogs. We always had a couple of goofy-looking, mixed-breed, farm dogs who had the run of our 75 acre property. After a long day of farming (and a long day of gopher chasing for them), neither us nor the dogs saw any reason to go for a walk. I mean, walking your dog was something that only city people did. None of our dogs even knew what a leash was. But fast forward to present day, and things have certainly changed. Most of us don’t spend the day actively farming, and most of our dogs don’t have acres to run around on. Walking the dog has now become essential because it gives us an important ingredient towards good health that many of us wouldn’t otherwise get – exercise.

We’re told all the time that we need to exercise, but why? We know exercise is “good for us,” but what does that mean? Most people don’t really know or have only a vague idea of the benefits of exercise, so let’s talk about some specific ways exercise leads to better health.

1. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight. The medical dangers of being overweight are numerous, and complications range from the mildly inconvenient to the deadly. Excess weight contributes to osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, infertility, erectile dysfunction, and even certain types of cancer. High blood pressure and cholesterol lead to cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Too much fat also compresses your organs, reducing their ability to function.

2. Exercise strengthens muscles. Stronger muscles can function more effectively for longer, and I’m not just talking about body builders. Strong muscles are better equipped to do the laundry, mow the lawn, put the groceries away, play with the grandkids, and any other number of activities. But perhaps most importantly, strong muscles are better able to resist injury. Not only will strong muscles help you get through your day, but they will help you maintain an independent lifestyle as you get older.

3. Exercise improves cardiopulmonary function. The heart and lungs are arguably the most important organs in the human body. Exercise improves their efficiency of function, and thus, their longevity. It also lowers your resting heart rate (RHR). A normal adult RHR is between 60-100 beats per minute (RHR tends to increase as you age). Your RHR is basically a measurement of the strength of your heart; a strong heart can move more blood each time it beats, thus it has to beat less often.

4. Exercise contributes to your psychological well-being. Physiologically speaking, exercise causes our body to release endorphins, the feel-good, natural pain fighters. But beyond that, it reduces depression, stress, and fatigue while improving body image, brain function, and quality of sleep. Who doesn’t want to look better, feel better, think better, and sleep better?

Even after reading about all the benefits of exercise, many people are still not ready to add exercise to their daily routine. “Exercise” can be a scary word. It conjures up visions of super-human athletes like Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, and Desi Davila. It’s easy to be intimidated when comparing yourself to them. Well, I have some bad news and good news – most of us will never be that fit, but we don’t have to be to get the benefits of exercise. Receiving even 30 minutes of exercise three days a week will do you good. And starting up is easy – just find an enjoyable activity that gets you moving and start having fun (always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program).

Adopting exercise into your routine is one of the best things you can do for your health. And sorry, but “hard work” does not count as exercise, though that’s a common misconception. So grab Rover’s leash and get walking – it’ll be good for both you.

Don’t let pain keep you from getting in shape. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Pain Assessment!