Karen K. Ho of Richmond Hill, Ontario adopted Max the Cockapoo in 2021 because her previous owner was unable to give her enough exercise.
He was kept in a crate until eight o’clock, which is not good for his energetic breed, she said. Ho also thought having a dog would be a good way to increase his own activity level.
“I wanted something that would help me establish a routine for walking, for meals, and also a companion that would help me with my fitness, as well as my anxiety.”
Ho and his 70-year-old mother walked Max about 90 minutes a day: once in the morning and a longer walk in the evening. Ho was amazed at how much it benefited her mother.
“One really embarrassing thing is that my mom is in better shape than me,” she said. “I remember when we went to Banff and Jasper [in Alberta] together. She was in better shape than me to hike in some places. I had a hard time following her.”
Leigh Vanderloo is the Scientific Director of ParticipAction, a not-for-profit organization that tracks Canadians’ physical activity efforts.
Vanderloo reviewed international and Canadian studies and said people with dogs walk about four times a day and get an average of 160 minutes of exercise per week, which is 10 minutes more than the recommended minimum.
“People who own pets are more active…and because of this increased activity, they are less likely to have problems with diabetes, hypertension, and even metabolic syndrome,” she said.
According to a 2016 study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, “walking dogs has been shown to promote commitment to and adherence to regular physical activity.”
This research was published before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. Some Canadians say having a dog has been especially important over the past two years, helping them get active while working from home.
Stay active while working from home
This was the case of Andrew Holland of Fredericton, New Brunswick. He’s been working remotely since March 2020, and his golden retriever Gus has given him a reason to go out for daily walks.
“Instead of driving to a physical office, we have our morning mock commute, which is patrolling the subdivision. So it’s about a 35-40 minute walk,” he said.
Having Gus helped replace some of the activity he would normally do at work.
“When you’re in an office, you go to meetings, you take a walk, heat up your lunch in the microwave, or stretch your legs, or make a tea or a coffee. Here at home it’s hard to do that, to get your steps in, so I usually try to get it out there and move around,” Holland said.
That “incidental” movement we get from leaving our house and going to the office is a big part of what many people’s lives are missing, Vanderloo said.
Having a dog to walk ties “your motivation to get active to something non-negotiable,” she said.
Pets are a powerful motivator
With the pandemic puppy boom, Winnipeg veterinarian Dr. Philipp Schott has also noticed an increase in dog walkers.
He said he’s heard pet owners say they’re a good excuse to get out and explore the neighborhood, especially since it’s difficult to travel.
Schott echoed Vanderloo’s comments that dogs are an incentive to get outside and get active.
“The fact that this dog is staring at you… people feel a very strong sense of responsibility and guilt towards their pets. More than just exercising their spouse or children, exercising for the dog… that’s a strong motivator for people,” he said.
Dogs generally need about half an hour to an hour a day of exercise, and you don’t have to worry about overdoing it if you want to do more.
“Most dogs are better athletes than most humans. He’s the rare person who can outdo his dog,” Schott said.
For Holland, Gus has been his “four-legged exercise machine” throughout the pandemic.
“We paused our gym membership during COVID. We bought a spin bike and I haven’t been as disciplined in using it as my wife has been, and that’s on me. But I always walk…with him.”
This was also the case for Ho with his dog Max.
“I think it’s kind of like when people really get into a sport. You go out with people who are also into that sport, you dress differently, your lifestyle changes, like the way you sleep and the way you to eat,” she said.
“I think it’s very similar when we talk about the health benefits of adopting a dog, especially one as active as mine.”
LISTEN | How owning a dog has helped Canadians stay fit during the pandemic:
The Morning Edition – KW7:17Fit Pet, Healthy Human: How Owning a Dog Helped Canadians Stay Fit During the Pandemic