I admit it.
I do things to help my dog,things I don’t do to help myself.
But I may be barking up the right tree. A report from Harvard Medical School on the health benefits of canine companionship encourages me to be a fitness role model for my dog.
When it comes to getting healthy, my golden retriever looks to me to show the way.
I always knew that my dog is my best fitness coach. Junior has an uncanny ability to get me off the couch and get moving. But when I read the special health report from Harvard Medical School, Get Healthy, Get a Dog, the health benefits of canine companionship , I learned that dogs don’t only improve our lives, but we,in turn, can help our canine partners get and stay healthy. This mutual health connection means I can’t just talk the fitness talk with my golden retriever anymore . Its time to walk the walk with him, literally.
So my new path to health with my dog is mindful walking.
My Dog,My Self
Those of us who are overweight and sedentary tend to have dogs that are less active and at risk for obesity.
The American Humane Association’s US Pet Population Fact Sheet estimates that over fifty percent of US dogs are obese. If your Beagle is getting a bit wide around the middle, it may be a warning sign that your own fitness routine needs obedience training. Your dog’s health may be the pudgy canary in the coal mine for your own wellness, an early warning sign that it is time for action to improve your health. It was for me.
Like many others, I struggle with my weight. My primary fitness activity has always been walking my dog, Junior. Last year, when an illness interfered with my hard won fitness routine , I stopped my usual three-mile morning walks with Junior.
We both missed the walks and the time together. I missed getting into my new single digit size wardrobe.
Unfortunately, I substituted our daily walks with a serious dedication to binge watching Game of Thrones and finding clever places to hide the bathroom scale. Junior, in true best friend golden retriever spirit, adjusted and joined me in these sedentary pursuits. Several months into our new routine, I noticed a disturbing, growing girth around both our midsections.
There were more signs that things were growing in the wrong direction.
“Is it me, or is your therapy dog vest shrinking?” I said one day to Junior one day as I struggled to buckle his therapy dog uniform around his round belly.
I also noticed that lately Junior just stood and looked at me astonished, when I asked him to jump up into the back of my SUV. I remembered that, when he posed for his annual spring photo in the garden this year, he wanted to know if the daylilies made him look fat.
Our real wake-up call occurred when we could no longer avoid our rendezvous with the scales at our respective doctors’ offices. I had my wake up call at my Rheumatologist’s office. Now it was Junior’s moment of truth as he stepped his golden paws on the scale at his veterinarian’s office.
At his weigh-in , Junior and I were both certain some nefarious trickster human at our veterinarian’s office had placed their chubby foot on the scale as Junior stepped up to weigh. Our veterinarian, Junior and I all raised eyebrows in surprise at the inflated number that flashed in the bright, digital , red numbers in front of us. I waited for the dreaded announcement .
“Hey Junior, you put on some weight,” our vet said.
Then it came, tough Love.
First, I wasted a good ten minutes dancing around the issue, looking sheepish and rationalizing to the good doctor why neither of us could exercise. But I still walked out with a healthy supply of diet advice and a super- sized bag of Diet Dog Food. Once in the parking lot, Junior was still wondering why we didn’t stop to give him his usual reward treat when we checked out at the front desk.
I spent the rest of the day seriously analyzing the root cause for our disturbing and dramatic fitness decline. I linked the root cause to our lower activity level. I was pretty sure that the nightly peanut butter and pretzel snack time didn’t help much either.
I realized Junior was depending on me for the plan to regain our physical fitness. The diet dog food solution and then the string bean diet lasted only a few days before we realized we both needed to get moving again. I needed to know what we could realistically do. I needed to find an activity we could both sustain . I needed to focus on what I could do, not what I could no longer do.
After all, now Junior was depending on me.
“That’s it,” I thought . Mindful walking . “Savor the moment,instead of the BlueBell.”
We decided to start walking again, not as far, but mindfully.
The practice of mindfulness reduces stress and enhances health. Walking with a dog is the perfect way to be more mindful, and to learn how to be present in the moment. Meditation is a part of many relaxation techniques including yoga, and it can be incorporated into a daily walk with your best friend . The Harvard Get Healthy, Get a Dog report discusses the benefits of walking your dog and offers suggestions for how to make daily walks with your dog more mindful.
Junior and I have started our journey to inner peace and we are walking there together, slowly, but mindfully. We meditate on our walks. I was initially worried that mindful walking with a dog sounded a bit precarious for a woman of a certain age like me. My balance issues have occasionally earned me the nickname Tipsy .
I didn’t need to worry. Mindful dog walking is doggone easy.
Junior was already doing it.
It turns out, dogs are great at mindfulness. They do it on their walks. I observe Junior on our walks. He seizes the moment. His nose is working all the time as he searches looking for people, birds, the neighbor’s attractive female poodle and the engaging mail carrier. Junior is a natural. On his walks, he focuses on just being in the moment.
I plan to follow his example and enjoy the walk, being with him, and just being present in the moment. Our goal for the distance we walk is less these days, but we now gain the benefit of mindful walking. We smell the flowers.
We are in the moment. Best of all, we are together.
Mindful walking is the opposite of multitasking. I notice that Junior does not multitask. He does not check his phone, wonder about his next meeting, politics, or where he left his keys. Occasionally he does briefly drift out of the zone when one of the ever multiplying neighborhood rabbits with the fluffy white tail tantalizingly hops right in his path, but he comes right back to the moment.
Although dogs are excellent fitness partners, dogs are not just a fitness tool, or an object. They are our family and companions. They still need us to help them be their best selves in a way that fits their capabilities and unique needs as well as our own. Being a human guardian for a dog is a commitment and the dog is a partner that brings responsibility to care and protect them . Part of that responsibility and an act of kindness is to help that partner get and stay healthy. We get fit along the way. What a deal.
For those who share a fitness journey with a dog , both may gain inner peace . At least I hope Junior and I will both feel better next time we step on the scale. Junior and I are plan more mindful walks and will add in some walking away from the refrigerator. I suspect that the shortage of Bluebell ice cream here in Texas will also be instrumental in my fitness journey.
How is it going so far ? We will let you know . Next we may even try yoga For now, Junior is teaching me downward facing dog.
It’s a perfect match . Junior is my guru. I am his fitness coach.
Keep moving mindfully everyone. And that means you too Fido.
The Harvard Get Healthy ,Get A Dog Report is available at the Harvard Medical School link.