For Those with Dogs, Better Health is Just a Walk Away

Here are some things I never would’ve known if it weren’t for my dog and his stubborn insistence on getting a good walk every single day: 

  • Most neighborhoods are full of cats and squirrels. 
  • Goose poop is a beloved dog delicacy. 
  • Dogs don’t care if there’s a hurricane or blizzard, they want to go out. Now. And you must come, too. 
  • It’s hard to stay stressed and self-absorbed watching your dog roll around in fresh-cut grass with pure joy and tongue-lolling abandon. 
  • Likewise watching your dog dig sand tunnels at the seashore. 
  • Your dog won’t judge when you run like a little kid chasing the ice cream man to catch every last moment of a sunset over the Occoquan Reservoir. He’ll run with you. 
  • On an early June afternoon, you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of dragonflies walking the beach at Mason Neck State Park in Fairfax. 
  • Splashing along Quantico Creek at Prince William Forest Park on a sweltering summer’s day, picking up sparkling chunks of fool’s gold (pyrite) as you go, is an antidote for whatever ails your soul. 

According to Harvard Health, walking isn’t just good exercise, it’s practically a cure-all. Regular walking reduces your risk of heart disease and breast cancer, eases joint pain, boosts immune function and even helps tame a sweet tooth. (That’s right, a 15-minute walk can “curb cravings for chocolate and even reduce the amount of chocolate you eat in stressful situations.”) 

On top of that, a study commissioned by the Wilderness Society shows time spent outdoors and away from our phones boosts cognitive abilities and creative thinking. 

The study found that immersing ourselves in nature, sans technology, can restore some brain functions, including attention span, problem-solving and multitasking. 

But how do you force yourself outside to commune with nature on a sub-freezing February day? Or a July afternoon when the mercury and humidity are both hovering around the 100 mark? 

Get a dog. Just like the postman, neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays a dog from swift (or not so swift) completion of his appointed rounds. 

Plus, canine companionship is full of health benefits, too. 

Dog ownership reduces stress and gets you moving, reducing your risk of heart disease and other ailments exacerbated by lack of physical activity, according to the American Heart Association. 

And perhaps most touching of all, dogs can cure heartbreak, literally. 

In 2009, the UCLA Medical Center conducted a study in which heart failure patients were exposed to therapy dogs for 12 minutes per day. Those patients demonstrated reduced blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. 

So what are you waiting for? Grab the leash and get outside with your best friend. 


About the Author: Kari Pugh is digital editor of InsideNoVa.com. She can be reached at karipugh@insidenova.com, when she’s not walking her dog, of course.

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