An experiment at Northwestern Medical School, Chicago, Illinois, placed dogs and their humans on a diet and exercise regime together.
Dogs today are facing the same weight challenges as people, with over half of them being 10% or more over their ideal weight. And so, says the American Veterinary Association, conditions like diabetes and heart disease, which often accompany obesity, lead the list of causes of death among dogs.
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What happens when dogs and their owners get moving together? The Northwestern study looked at three groups: a group of 56 people, a group of 53 dogs, and a group of 36 teams of dogs and their owners.
The people involved were all counseled weekly about their dieting and activity, and told that they should walk at least 20 minutes a day and should not exceed 1400 daily calories. The dogs were prescribed a diet based upon an ideal target weight for their respective breeds and ages.
A year later, the participants with dogs reported somewhat better results than those who were dieting and exercising all by themselves, due to their having a more enjoyable time participating in the program. Average weight loss of the dogs was 12 pounds. As they lost the weight and began to function at higher fitness levels, the dogs reportedly attained higher levels of energy as well.
Dogs can provide steady motivation, and will always remind their owners that they need their AM or PM walk. When pets begin a fitness program, the same rules apply to them as the ones people should follow.
- Walking briskly is great exercise for you and your dog. Still, pace yourselves and don’t walk too far at first. Over time, increase the rate and the distance. Remember that a small dog will be exercising harder even over a short distance.
- Consider the surface, and how it will feel to your dog’s paws. Pavement heats up a lot, while gravel can be very uncomfortable.
- Your dog needs to drink water before and after exercise, just as you do. You both also need a water break during exercise that lasts longer than an hour.
- Consistently exercise with your dog, not only on weekends.
- Keep an eye on your dog. Rapid panting, staggering or limping, muscle tremors, or a drooping tongue will indicate your friend is at his limit.
When you do go walking or jogging with your dog, remember to stretch first. Pets will always naturally stretch, but you’ll have to take a few moments to do it deliberately. Your hamstrings and calves will usually need to be stretched even after a moderate walk. Do seated hamstring/calf stretches to elongate the muscles at the back of your legs.
Sitting in a chair, lean forward, keeping your feet firmly on the floor, with your toes and your knees facing forward. Push your left leg forward, straightening out your knee while pointing your toes up. Take a long towel, hold an end in each hand, and place the middle of the towel around your foot. You should be sitting with your back straight and your abdominals held in tight, and relaxing your shoulders. Tipping forward from the hip slowly, pull the towel upward gradually until you can feel your whole leg stretching. Keep this position for 20-30 seconds, as you breathe at a natural rate. Then go through the process again with your other leg.