Written by FOTP Team
We all know that our dogs need regular walks and exercise to maintain their physical and mental health. But many dog owners may not have considered the positives that dog walking can hold for their own wellbeing. So to celebrate National Walking Day, we’re looking at 10 of the top benefits of walkies not just for dogs, but for their humans too.
The University of Animal Health Technology in Tokyo found that a daily walk with your dog can reduce the chances of humans developing depression, anxiety, and stress disorders. That’s because this light physical activity boosts calming GABA chemicals in the body by up to 40%. They also found that stress-inducing chemical MHPG was much lower.
Getting outside and exploring the world – even if you live in a city – is known to be good for our mental wellbeing. Even if your nearest green space is a small local park or square, spending a little time there each day will boost your mood compared to staying inside. You can even use these benefits as an opportunity to visit new places with your dog to take in more outdoor experiences and adventures.
Physical activity is proven to reduce stress and improve health in both dogs and humans. So for dog owners that might not take part in any other exercise, daily dog walks are a great way to boost circulation and calm the mind – and it doesn’t even feel like a workout. In fact, a 2013 report from the American Heart Association found that dog ownership is likely to be associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease including a lower risk of strokes which are a leading cause of disabling brain injury.
Dog owners walk for an average of four times adding up to 160 minutes each week. And though dog owners are proven to be more physically active in general than non-dog owners, dog walking accumulates an extra half an hour of exercise every week compared to those without dogs. It’s just more proof that dogs are great for your health!
Going outside might not seem relaxing when the weather isn’t on our side. But evidence suggests that being with our dogs lowers our level of stress hormone cortisol. So if you’ve had a bad day, a 15 minute walk in the rain with your furry friend might turn out to be more calming than you’d think. Walking is therapeutic and mostly low impact, and your dog’s excitement for walkies can instantly cheer you up.
Even when we’re not in the mood, dog ownership makes us get up and out of the house. Without this excellent excuse for exercise, we’re more likely to stay in and potentially wallow or stress ourselves out further. So next time you feel your stress lifted after walking, you can thank your dog for it.
One of the joys of dog ownership is the sense of purpose it can bring to our lives. And keeping them healthy and well-exercised is part of that responsibility. From simply getting up in the morning to heading out in the cold or dark, dogs motivate us to form daily routines.
And in return, our dog forms that same routine and certainly won’t let us forget it. They’ll be excitedly reminding you that it’s time for walkies, and you’ll be wanting to take them out in a way you might not be so enthusiastic about if it were only for your own benefit.
Many dog owners comment on the feeling of happiness that they share with their dog during walks. Watching them explore, play, and enjoy the outdoors can put a smile on our face even as we stand alone and watch them.
Spending more time outside with your dog can also lead to reduced feelings of loneliness. So if you work or live alone, or just spend a lot of time alone throughout the day, walking with your dog can feel like a bonding experience with your best friend.
Scientists have found that the difference between functional dog walking – in which dog owners focus only on the benefits of walking from their dog – and recreational walking for the shared benefits it brings can help change our mindsets about dog walking overall. Because some dog owners admit to not walking their dogs as often as they should, it’s been found that switching their way of thinking about walking from being beneficial for the dog only to a mutually positive experience can help relieve guilt and stress around not giving dogs the exercise they need – and encourage them to walk more.
Taking your dog out for a walk is bound to lead to meeting new people. From those who stop to pet your dog to other dog walkers whose pets stop to play with yours, there are plenty of opportunities for interactions on our dog walks that can prevent feelings of isolation.
You can even join dog walking groups or make dog walking a family activity to bring about a greater sense of connection.
Whether you practise mindfulness or struggle with it from home, dog walking is a great way to disconnect from our thoughts and create a sense of mental peace – even if we don’t realise it. Taking in the scenery, enjoying the great outdoors, and switching off from the outside world can all give dog walking the same sense of calm and satisfaction that mindfulness practises achieve.
For some people, it’s also a great way to calmly reflect on stresses and issues in life without distractions. It’s a time where we can focus our attention in the moment, which means we’re less likely to catastrophize and more likely to allow our minds to develop pragmatic approaches to problems. It’s similar to how you might take a walk if a situation became stressful at work – only with the extra bonus of a furry companion.And for extra mindfulness, you could even try leaving your phone at home.
Some studies suggest that dog walkers are less likely to suffer from diabetes, high BMI and related issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression. These are all linked to exercise and time spent outdoors, but they can also be attributed to the calming, positive effects of time spent with our dogs.
Rather than getting stuck in a rut or feeling bored of the same routine, there are plenty of ways to get more from your dog walk – and therefore more benefits for your mental health. Changing your route can help you spend more time taking in new surroundings. Varying your speed can add an element of physical exertion to your walk.
Tracking your movements in an app can help you feel inspired to see the results of your daily walk. And simply making an effort to say hello to those you see while you’re out can boost your day in ways you might not have realised.
Feeling motivated to get outside? Grab the leash, and start reaping some more of the mental health benefits your dog provides. Happy National Walking Day!