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5 Ways To Exercise With Your Dog

Posted: 01/09/2012 7:47 am EST

There's no question that pets are good for our health, helping to do everything from lower blood pressure to lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression. One recent study from the American Psychological Association even found that just thinking about a cherished animal improved the emotional well-being of a pet owner just as much as thinking about a cherished friend did. But that's not all the research team found.

"We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions," lead researcher of the study Allen R. McConnell of Miami University in Ohio said in a statement. "Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners."

Pet ownership is one health behavior that we're getting right: 39 percent of American households include at least one dog, according to the 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey. But there's probably more you can get out of your friendship with Fido. A dog needs exercise and so do you -- why not do it together? Here are five ways to make a workout more fun for you and your pet:

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  • Morning Walk

    A brisk daily walk <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/07/exercise-immunity_n_1190296.html?ref=healthy-living">can do wonders for your immune system</a>, cardiovascular health and weight management, but it can be hard to find the motivation to get moving each morning. Use your dog's unflagging energy and need to get outdoors as motivation to move quickly from your house to the park. A recent Michigan State University study found that <a href="http://news.msu.edu/story/9051/" target="_hplink">people who owned and walked dogs</a> were 34 percent more likely to get the amount of daily exercise they need, according to a university release. "The findings suggest public health campaigns that promote the responsible ownership of a dog along with the promotion of dog walking may represent a logical opportunity to increase physical activity," epidemiologist and study author Matthew Reeves said in a statement.

  • Agility Training

    This organized, competitive sport, in which dogs are judged on speed and agility as they complete obstacle courses, is also a good workout for the trainer. In order to usher your pet through a new routine, you'll have to run alongside offering command words and treats for a job well done. Your dog will improve strength and coordination while you both get a cardiovascular workout. Need to find an obstacle course or a club for support? The <a href="http://www.nadac.com/">North American Dog Agility Council</a> has listings nationwide.

  • Doga

    Dog yoga, or doga, is a type of Hatha practice that incorporates massage, stretching and relaxation for both pet and pet owner. Many yoga enthusiasts dismiss the practice, but practitioners of doga say that a class can help them de-stress and feel connected to their pups. But even if dog yoga seems silly, a 2009 New York Times article on the practice pointed out that doga can have a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/09/fashion/09fitness.html">motivating effect on reluctant exercisers</a>: <blockquote>Were it not for their pets, many people would never take daily walks in the park. By extension, it's easy to see how taking your dog to doga may be a surefire way to make certain you do yoga yourself.</blockquote>

  • Skijor

    Skijor is an amalgam of cross-country skiing and mushing, in which a person cross-country skis with a dog harnessed to him. The team effort -- the dog pulls forward while the person uses skis and polls to keep momentum going -- results in great distance and speed. A snow-free version of the sport, canicross, refers to a cross-country runner who is harnessed to a dog. Both are recognized by the <a href="http://www.isdra.org/">International Sled Dog Racing Association</a> and clubs exist all over the country and in Europe, where both sports are more popular.

  • Canine Freestyle Dancing

    If the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-207_162-10007001.html" target="_hplink">measurable weight loss of <em>Dancing with the Stars</em> contestants</a> is any measure to go by, ballroom dancing is a major workout. But the species of your partner has nothing to do with burning calories and improving endurance, strength and flexibility -- so why not cha-cha with FiFi? Several organizations, including the <a href="http://www.worldcaninefreestyle.org/">World Canine Freestyle Organization</a> and <a href="http://www.musicaldogsport.org/">Musical Dog Sport Association</a> can help you find classes.

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Filed by Meredith Melnick  |