Getting in shape with your dog is a fun and rewarding way to spend time together. It’s no secret – we could all use a little encouragement to get more active and healthy!
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70 percent of Americans are overweight. And we’re not alone – more than 54 percent of our dogs struggle with extra baggage too. So without further ado, it’s time for you and your pooch to get off the couch and get active.
Confession: I love my dog (of course!) and I enjoy walking and working out, and I love how I feel after exercising. But for some reason, it’s that connection between making the ambitious plans and actually doing it that I struggle with!
While I love walking Porter and using our time together as my daily workout, sometimes I’m just too exhausted from the long day before to get it together early in the day.
Other times, it’s too cold in the mornings when I’m free or – as the case has been for the past four months – the humidity in the South is so awful, there’s nothing appealing about outdoor workouts – vigorous walks, or otherwise – between 5:00AM and 11:00PM!
Despite all my excuses (and I seem to have tons), I had a get-real moment this summer and realized if I’m ever going to get in shape, be healthy for life, and drop 40 pounds (or more) – it’s now or never, and I’m not good with the ‘never’ option.
Getting into shape is nothing new for me – I’ve battled weight issues most of my life and more recently health concerns. In September 2016, I was hospitalized with heart failure and later diagnosed with Cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body).
There is no cure for my condition – I can only manage it through medication and good health.
The Wake-Up Call to Get in Shape
The entire experience in 2016 presented a significant wake-up call for me and my family. While I knew my weight was not the cause of my heart issues, it certainly was not helping matters. After I was discharged, I overhauled my diet, wiped out my pantry, cut out all soda consumption (even diet drinks!) and started walking everywhere with Porter.
My pup became my health partner and together we logged in some serious steps – between morning walks at the park, afternoon trips around the neighborhood and weekend family hikes to our favorite out-of-town trails. I charged up my Fitbit so I could track my steps and laced up my new shoes, and the two of us hit the ground walking.
I admit, it was challenging at first. But I stuck with it and it became easier over time. I dropped 40 pounds and felt amazing for the first time in 25 years. It got to the point where I needed those daily walks and nothing got in the way of my time with Porter.
It turns out that during all those years I’d been struggling to work out, exercise and get in shape, I’d been fighting an uphill battle that I was never going to win with my undiagnosed heart condition, high blood pressure and relentless headaches.
It was a Catch-22 for me: I believed my weight gain over the years had caused those issues for me, and that I just needed to suck it up, work out and drop the extra pounds and all those symptoms would disappear. But as long as I felt horrible every time I attempted to work out, I’d just give up.
It’s no surprise then that when hard times hit (hospital bills, work slowdown), I started to worry – and eat – more and walk less. Somehow I’d lost my motivation to work out – I quit going to the gym and gave up my daily walks with Porter – and gained back those 40 “lost” pounds plus some.
This summer I renewed my attitude and devised a plan to get fit and healthy with Porter. Dogs are great work-out partners – they won’t cancel on you ever, they are (almost) willing to go at your pace and if there’s an unattended dog or sketchy person in the park or on the path, it’s reassuring to have my (not-so-scary) pup with me.
Get in shape and Turn Your Dog Walk into a Work-Out
I won’t be swapping my upper and lower body weight workouts for leisurely strolls with Porter; instead, I’ll add daily walking to my routine (especially now that it’s fall!).
Here are some ideas to get into shape with your dog. I made a 30-Day Steps with Your Dog Challenge printable to help me stay focused and on track.
I realize that not everyone monitors their steps, so you can also download the 30-Day Walk Your Dog Challenge that allows you to fill in the time you start/finish your daily walks.
No matter how you decide to track and achieve your goals, remember these walks are great opportunities to bond with your BFF (Best Furry Friend) and a chance to practice basic skills.
- Set a Goal – for me, my starting goal is 3,500 steps per day for the first 5 days, increased by 500 steps every five days so that I’ll have completed 28,500 steps by the end of the 30 days. I like to track my steps on my Fitbit, which also monitors my water intake, calorie consumption and sleep patterns – and alerts me to any text messages I receive!
- Toss a Ball or Bring a Rope – if you’re comfortable taking your dog off-leash, you can throw a ball for a game of fetch or play tug-of-war with your pup; fetching is great running exercise for your pooch and the throwing and pulling provides a good arm workout for you.
- Tracking – if you’re looking to add variety to your workouts and diversify your activity, you do tracking exercises. While this won’t necessarily provide you with a rigorous workout, you will rack up your steps by walking alongside your dog and burn extra calories.
Tracking work is about teaching your dog to find a predetermined item with his nose – much like a police K9 or search-and-rescue dog does. You can start by doing this in your backyard and moving your way up to a large, outdoor space. Search organized tracking activities or clubs online for additional support.
- Geo-Caching – this activity is a fun treasure hunting game where you use a GPS to hide and seek containers with other participants. While it varies how you can play, the end result is the same – you and your pup find good caches in dog-friendly areas and search for the “treasure.” You can set the pace, determine your goals and achieve what works best for you. It’s another great way to get into shape with your dog.
Most importantly – you (and possibly your pup) didn’t gain all this weight overnight, so it’s not going to come off after a single workout. It’s about having a positive attitude and setting consistent goals.
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I’d love to hear about plans to get active and fit, and be able to encourage you. I’ll be posting updates on my own progress and sharing the tips along the way. Feel free to comment below or connect with us on our Facebook page.
This blog post is not intended to substitute for informed medical or nutritional advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problem or condition. Please always check with your doctor before changing your diet, drastically altering your sleep habits, taking supplements and/or medications or starting a new fitness routine. This post about getting into shape with your dog is based on my personal health experience only and should not be used to diagnose, treat or aid in your health issues.