Just yesterday, as my hubby and I were walking our three Westies (Blanche, Keely and Ambrose) around lake Nokomis in South Minneapolis, Minn., I told him that, while it bothered me somewhat that in order to walk the dogs somewhere where there were well-maintained paths—meaning not as treacherous, slippery or plain slush-filthy—as our streets and sidewalks around the neighborhood (this is Minnesota in winter, folks, despite a lovely January thaw), driving to one of our abundant lakes or parks seemed a smaller price to pay than a gym membership.

Then, today, in the Jan. 17, 2010 issue of the Parade supplement  in our Sunday Star Tribune, I saw a short article called “A Happy Way to Get Fit” by Allison Takeda. In it, the author makes the very same point. She wrote, “When it comes to getting active, you may be better off investing in a dog than a gym membership.”

It makes me feel brilliant and insightful when journalists psychically key into an opinion I just voiced!

A study in Great Britain, involving a survey of 5,000 people, found that people with dogs exercised up to six hours more per week than those who work out at a gym or on their own simply by virtue of adding up the shorter bursts of activity, such as a 20–30-minute walks with their dogs done twice a day on average plus a longer walk a few times a week. It all added up to about eight hours a week of physical activity vs. two–three for those who visited a gym.

With pets, there’s a sense of responsibility involved. Pet owners care that their companions stay healthy and are willing to put themselves out to ensure this; that, and they don’t want to find puddles on the floor when they come home from work. Whereas, who among us hasn’t found it incredibly easy to find excuses not to head to the gym? (And I used to be a fitness coordinator and aerobics instructor myself back in the day!)

What’s more, the study cited enjoyment as a key element in what kept people moving. A vast majority of dog owners, 86% according to the article, said they enjoyed spending time walking their pets, whereas only 16%  of the gym-goers claimed the same enjoyment. Looks like people prefer walking Westies to visiting the weights room, Newfoundlands to the Nautilus machines, and Airdales to aerobics classes, huh?

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