The health benefits of dog walking

Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK
08 February 2017

If you’ve got a furry four-legged friend, I’m about to tell you some great news about your health, especially when it comes to your daily dog walk.

An image of people walking their dog

What are the physical benefits of walking your dog?

You meet the physical activity guidelines

Did you know that, on average, you’re probably walking about 160 minutes a week and going out for walks at least four times a week with your dog? This is great for achieving the recommended levels of physical activity over a week.

You’re likely to do more exercise

Some research shows that people who walk their dogs walk about half an hour more than people who don’t have dogs. And if you’re a dog walker, you’re more likely to be more physically active in general than those who don’t own dogs.

An infographic chart showing the benefits of dog walking over one week

What are the mental health benefits?

It lowers stress levels

Some evidence has suggested that being around a dog may lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Physical activity is a proven mood booster, and walking in nature has also been shown to improve your sense of wellbeing. This trio is a golden combination for your mental health.

Connecting with others

Being sociable is good for your wellbeing. Walking your dog naturally brings this about – you’re likely to meet other fellow dog walkers, which helps build a sense of connectedness and wellbeing.

Practise mindfulness

Walking, especially in nature, gives you a chance to practise mindfulness and notice the scenery and wildlife around you. Try out our walking meditation podcasts.

Other health effects

The evidence is inconclusive, but it has been suggested that compared to dog owners who walk their dogs regularly, people who don’t own dogs may have a higher risk of:

Why do dog owners walk more than those who don’t own dogs?

There are a few theories. Some people are fantastic at looking after other people. They put the needs of others first. It’s similar when you have a dog. You feel obliged to take your dog for a walk because they are relying on you to do the right thing by them. It’s sometimes easier to help others than it is to help yourself. It’s a bit like giving really good advice but not taking it yourself! You know your dog needs exercise and so you make sure they get it. Equally, you know you need exercise – but would you find it as easy to get out the door if you didn’t have your dog to exercise? Possibly not!

Furthermore, the bond between dogs and humans is so strong that you have an emotional investment and you want to take your dog for a walk. It’s not an effort or a chore, whereas going for a walk on your own just doesn’t have that same motivation or emotional nudge.

An image showing Matilda the dog having her tummy tickled 

How to get the most out of your dog walk

  • Walk fast enough to make a difference – moderate intensity means that your heart is beating faster than usual and you feel warm, but you can still hold a conversation.
  • Vary your speed and go up and down some hills. It’s good to use different speeds and intensities of exercise to ensure you’re raising your heart rate. Track your movement with an app – it’s inspiring to see the results
  • Look around at your surroundings and enjoy the nature, try out some new places to walk your dog: the woods, the beach or fields.
  • Walking can be great thinking time, especially if you’ve got a problem you’re trying to solve.
  • Say hello to other people you meet en route. Your dog will probably be keen to say hello too!
  • Wear a pedometer to see how many steps you’re taking – it might motivate you to do more. Lots of people who track their steps find that they want to do more to reach a target.
  • Make the most of sunny days, and even dull days. Being outside in daylight can help ease the effects of seasonal affective disorder if you suffer from it.
  • Use the opportunity to take a friend with you instead of meeting for a sit-down coffee or lunch.
  • Recognise and reflect on your mood during and after your walk, you’ll notice a difference!
Natalie Heaton
Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK

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