Looking for a built-in workout buddy?

Why pay for an expensive gym membership when, chances are, you’re already living with a built-in workout buddy?

It’s your dog.

“I’ve never encountered a dog that isn’t willing to go for a walk or run, any time of day or night, regardless of the weather or the time of day,” says Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian, author, and human fitness advocate.

“Dogs are that incentive many people need to get moving,” he says. “So if you’re trying to get into shape or lose a few extra pounds, you should incorporate your dog into your routine.”

And if your pet is overweight, he or she will benefit, as well.

Dogs and people burn calories at almost the exact same rate, Dr. Ward says. This means the types of activities that benefit humans the most also benefit our best friends.

Fido gets a runner’s high, too
“People like to talk about runner’s high, the endorphins that are secreted after runners go through prolonged activity. Well, it turns out that maybe animals experience the same runner’s high, including dogs,” Dr. Ward says.

“Let’s face it: Dogs and humans need physical activity every day. Some of the best forms of exercise are walking, jogging, or running. These are conditions that dogs are ideally suited for.”

The best recipe for losing weight?

  1. Start in the kitchen
    Dogs and humans are also alike when the goal is losing weight, Dr. Ward says.


    “Weight loss is about 60 to 70 percent what we eat. Then you have 30 to 40 percent that comes from aerobic activity or exercise. So when I’m dealing with a human who is what we call morbidly obese, we don’t put them on a treadmill or tell them to go for a run. We start in the kitchen. Because that’s where we know we’ll get the most benefit.

    “The same is true with a morbidly obese pet. The first thing we do is change the diet. And most of the time your veterinarian is going to recommend a therapeutic weight-loss diet instead of just cutting the volume of whatever you’re feeding him.”

  2. Focus on the right goal
    “And whether you or your dog need to lose weight, remember you shouldn’t be chasing a number on a scale,” Dr. Ward cautions. “Your primary goal is to improve health.”

    For humans, this means women shouldn’t simply aspire to squeezing into a size-4 dress or men getting down to their high school weight. Says Dr. Ward, “You may have had other changes and that number on the scale doesn’t always translate to better health.”

    For pets, this means focusing on things like vitality, levels of energy, and ability to do key activities around the home.

    “A dog owner may tell me his pet is having a hard time jumping into the car or climbing the stairs. So that becomes the goal,” Dr. Ward says. “Because we know those simple tasks will be a byproduct of losing weight, strengthening muscles, or feeling better.

    “Those are the metrics I look at,” he says. “We use weight only as a measure of last resort because that, to me, is the least important parameter.”

For more information
Dr. Ward founded the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention to raise awareness on the dangers of excess weight in dogs and cats.

Helping your arthritic dog cut the fat

Safety tips for working out with your dog

Exercise for dogs


Jack Sommars is a Denver-based writer who often reports on animal and veterinary issues.

American Animal Hospital Association


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