People who rely on mobility scooters or power wheelchairs work a little harder to stay active. Getting out for exercise, in any form, always takes a few extra steps.
And, understandably so, mobility device riders sometimes need a little extra push to get moving. It doesn’t take long to discover that fancy new gym clothes or a pool membership usually aren’t enough for sustaining an active lifestyle.
More often, that incentive is staring up at you with glassy eyes and a sloppy grin, begging for a quick spin around the block.
Whether you know it or not, your dog is helping you to stay physically active. For most of you out there with pet dogs, we might be preaching to the choir. But in case you’ve forgotten all the ways your pet dog makes your life better — and more active — here’s a refresher.
The connection between companionship from dogs and wellness is one of those implicit truths, seldom studied and, quite frankly, often taken for granted.
We have complex relationships with our pets. Sometimes they drive us up the wall, like when they dig through the trash while we’re out or eat the roast turkey from the countertop on Thanksgiving. You can fill in the blanks with your own stories.
But for some reason, we love them in spite of it. Maybe it’s their helplessness (can you imagine a French bulldog trying to survive in the wild? Right. Neither can we). Maybe it’s the unconditional love they give us first. They crave our attention and affection without shame. If a person did that, we’d call them needy or overbearing. Somehow, we let dogs have the run of it.
In exchange, we receive beautifully transactional relationships with our dogs. We forgive them when they upset the trash can, feed them, house them and visit the vet every once in a while.
In return, we each get an unwavering listener who always seems interested in what we’re up to, who leans into us and begs for treats and never judges when we do something silly.
Dogs create structure for everyone
So why are we talking about all this stuff? Wasn’t this supposed to be about staying physically active?
A healthy lifestyle, including maintaining good physical health, starts with the right state of mind. Research shows dog companionship leads to people feeling less lonely, more understood and more fulfilled.
Now a person who has all that going for them, we could surmise, is probably less likely to stay on the couch all day eating Fudge Stripes cookies watching cop show reruns (not saying that’s always a bad thing, but everything in moderation).
Dogs have needs, and those needs beget structure and routine. You need to feed them every day. You need to clean up their messes every day. You need to make sure they get exercise. Every. Day. And when you can’t do it every day, you have to arrange for someone else to care for them.
Barring any unforeseen illness or injury, consistency with that routine is often enough to provide your pup with a long and healthy life (if only children were so simple).
It’s 6:30 p.m. on a weekday. Time for the evening walk. Your companion knows the routine and started showing her excitement about 15 minutes ago. For the sake of storytelling, we’ll say she’s an old cocker spaniel called “Ginger.”
You roll out of the house on your Revo 2.0 4-Wheel, heading toward the dog park. Ginger trots briskly ahead of your scooter. It’s easy for you to hold her leash with one hand while steering with the other because the ergonomic delta tiller puts full operability in either hand or both.
Your neighbor, we’ll call him Phil, from down the block is walking toward you. He grins and waves, then stops to compliment Ginger’s excellent sidewalk manners. You spend a minute and a half talking about the squirrel she trapped on the back porch before Phil continues on.
Without even thinking about it, Ginger just gave you two opportunities to get active you might not have had otherwise.
- You got outside and went to the park (a trip, by the way, that is only just starting. You haven’t even reached the dog park yet).
- You stopped and connected with Phil.
Two people passing each other in the street have only abstractions between them. But a dog — furry, obedient and adorable — gives both of you an object for your attention, something to talk about before going on your way.
And if you’re thinking any type of pet can help you stay physically active, feel a sense of purpose and combat loneliness, think again.
While that’s partly true for other animals, research shows you’re more likely to stay active with a dog than with a cat.
But really, is anyone surprised?