CANADA These Canadians are gaining momentum in physical activity thanks...

These Canadians are gaining momentum in physical activity thanks to their dogs


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Karen K. Ho from Richmond Hill, Ontario, says she got Max because she thought having a dog would be a good way to increase her own activity level. It turns out she was right. (Robert Silverman)

Karen K. Ho from Richmond Hill, Ontario adopted Max’s cockapoo in 2021 because his previous owner couldn’t give him enough exercise.

According to her, he was kept in a cage for up to eight hours, which is not good for his energetic breed. Ho also thought that having a dog would be a good way to increase her own activity level.

“I wanted something that would help me establish a routine for walking, eating, and also a companion that would help me with my fitness as well as my anxiety.”

Ho and her mother, who is in her 70s, walked with Max for about 90 minutes a day: once in the morning and a longer walk in the evening. Ho was amazed at how much it helped her mother.

“It’s very embarrassing that my mom is in better physical shape than me,” she said. “I remember when we went to Banff and Jasper [in Alberta] together. She was better prepared for hiking in certain places than I was. I tried my best to keep up with her.”

Lee Vanderloo is the scientific director of ParticipAction, a non-profit organization that tracks the physical activity of Canadians.

Vanderloo looked at international and Canadian studies and said that people with dogs walk about four times a day and get an average of 160 minutes of exercise per week – that’s 10 minutes more than the recommended minimum.

Black and white portrait of a young woman.

Lee Vanderloo, scientific director of ParticipAction, says studies show that people with dogs walk about four times a day and exercise 160 minutes a week on average. (Janis Lempera)

“People who have pets are more active … and because of this increase in activity, they are less likely to have problems associated with diabetes, hypertension and even metabolic syndrome,” she said.

According to a study published in 2016 American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine“dog walking has been shown to promote engagement in and adherence to regular physical activity.”

This study was published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Some Canadians say it’s especially important over the past two years to have a dog that helps them stay active while working from home.

Stay active while working from home

So it was with Andrew Holland of Fredericton, New Jersey. He has 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 a morning simulation drive to work, that is, unit patrols. So it’s about a 35-40 minute walk,” he said.

A man poses for a photo with a dog.

Andrew Holland poses for a selfie with his dog Gus. Holland has been working remotely since March 2020, when the pandemic began, and says his golden retriever has given him a reason to go out for daily walks. (Presented by Andrew Holland)

Gus’s presence helped replace some of the activities he usually did at work.

“When you’re in the office, you’re going to meetings, you’re walking, you’re heating up lunch in the microwave, or you’re stretching your legs, or you’re making tea or coffee. Here at home, it’s hard to do. to bring you up to date, so I usually try to piss him off,” Holland said.

That “random” movement we get as we leave the house and head to the office is a big part of what many people’s lives are missing, according to Vanderloo.

Having a dog for a walk, she says, connects “your motivation to be active with something irresistible.”

Pets are a powerful motivator

Dr. Phillip Schott, a Winnipeg veterinarian, has also noticed an increase in people walking their dogs due to the pandemic puppy boom.

He said he heard from pet owners that they were a good excuse to get out and explore the area, especially because traveling was difficult.

Schott echoed Vanderloo’s comments that dogs are an incentive to get outside and get active.

Portrait of a middle-aged man.

Dr. Phillip Schott, a Winnipeg veterinarian, says a dog’s gaze can be a “powerful motivator” to get up and go for a walk. (Marlon Evan)

“When this dog looks at you… people have a very strong sense of responsibility and guilt towards their pets. More so than forcing your spouse or kids to exercise, forcing a dog to exercise… that’s a strong motivation for people,” he said.

Dogs usually need half an hour to an hour a day to exercise, and you don’t have to worry about overdoing it if you want to get more done.

“Most dogs are better athletes than most people. A rare person can surpass his dog,” Schott said.

Golden Retriever looking at the camera next to an open laptop.

It’s hard to resist those eyes. Holland’s dog, Gus, looks at him and wants a treat. Holland says Gus has helped replace some of the activities he normally did at work. (Presented by Andrew Holland)

For Holland, Gus has been his “four-legged trainer” throughout the pandemic.

“We stopped our gym membership during COVID. We bought an exercise bike and I wasn’t as disciplined in using it as my wife and it’s on me. But I still go… with him.”

It was the same with Ho with her dog Max.

“I think it’s like when people get really into sports. You meet people who also do the sport, you dress differently, your lifestyle changes, like how you sleep and how you eat,” she said.

“I think it’s very similar to when we talk about the health benefits of adopting a dog, especially one as active as mine.”

A small dog lies on the grass with an orange ball.

Max takes a break after playing ball in the park. (Presented by Karen K. Ho)

LISTEN | How owning dogs has helped Canadians keep fit during the pandemic:

While some people have gained weight due to the pandemic, others have found their dog bouncing their stride and their furry friend making them work out. CBC producer Antonia Reed explains why every walk with the dog matters.

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