Pups – Your Best Fitness Pal: 5 Reasons How a Dog Can Improve Your Mental and Physical Health

June 13th, 2018

Warm weather is FINALLY here for running! Even though Chicago has been seeing its fair share of rainy days, the temperature is up and here to stay (for a couple months at least). Take full advantage of these summer months by amping up your run, getting outside, and increasing your overall happiness.

Now that race season has officially kicked off, most runners have already dove into their training regimen. Even if you aren’t signed up for a race, running is a great way to get your heart healthy, burn more calories, and release those “feel-good” endorphins. With Chicago’s inconsistent weather, people have gotten in the habit of turning to a treadmill for their daily running session.

“Running on a treadmill is… uh… fun!” — Said no one ever.

“Changing your routine, seeing new faces, taking in the scenic shrubbery, this all helps combat workout boredom,” says Robert Gotlin, DO, director of the Orthopedic and Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Not only will you be entertained on your stroll outdoors, you’re more likely to extend your sweat session!

If you’re like me, and most people are, you’re a dog lover! Taking your furry friend on an outdoor excursion can have MANY benefits to you and your slobbery pal’s mental and physical health. Don’t get me wrong, human companions are great to have around, but dogs will never cancel on your run regardless rain or shine, plus they’ll never complain. So tie up your laces, snag the leash, and check out these undeniable reasons how your four-legged best friend can help improve your fitness level.


Dogs are habitual animals by nature. If you want to form a sturdy, healthy habit of walking or running with your dog, they will hold you to it. The hardest part of any exercise routine is getting started. If you set your alarm early, or develop a ritual of getting ready to head out for a walk, your dog will know. This is great for those days when you need motivation. Dogs have the ability to remind you “hey! It’s our walk time!,” and who could let down a face like that? For example, whenever my dog sees my headphones, he knows it’s go time. Sometimes if I’m not in the mood I’ll literally just grab them and his enthusiasm and excitement reminds me that I’m not only improving my quality of life, I’m also improving his.

Whether you’re out for a run or a casual walk, having your pooch along your side will help increase your pace. In fact, dogs have been known to increase your speed far more than a human companion. University of Missouri researchers reported that people who walked with their dogs increase their speed by 28 percent over 12 weeks, in comparison to those who strolled with a (human) friend only increased their speed by 4 percent. Researchers concluded the main reason for this incline is because dogs do not share negative energy. Dogs won’t complain how brutal hills are or give excuses to miss a run that day…they also run in the rain.


Dogs don’t typically run on a treadmill– I specify typically because I, myself have actually invested in a treadmill for my pooch when I wasn’t able to give him the 5 miles a day he required. In order to make your walks with your dogs most efficient, you’ll have to run outside (duh). Walking or running with your dog outside will not only help you increase your running pace, but improve your endurance for longer walks as well. “When you’re distracted by the environment, you’re less aware of your effort, such as how far you’ve run or how much your quads burn,” says Gotlin. When your rated perceived exertion is low, you’re not focusing so much on how far or how long you’ve been running. When your focus is in the moment you may easily run twenty minutes longer versus being stuck on a treadmill staring at the clock.


Taking a casual walk or run outside has many physical benefits, but more importantly mental benefits as well. Multiple studies have proven that exercising outside vs indoors may help reduce signs and symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. “Breathing fresh air opposed to the recycled kind can create a feeling of euphoria, which comes from the body’s release of feel-good endorphins,” Gotlin says. When these feel-good hormones are released, you’ll experience greater amounts of positive thinking, and you’ll be more present or in the moment (opposed to stressing about work or things on your to-do list). According to a report published in Environmental Science and Technology, 71 percent of people feel less stressed after a 30-minute walk in the park, while 72 percent of people who take their walks indoors actually feel more stressed (I’m not making this stuff up folks!).

Not only will you be happier, but your pup will gain some positive energy as well. Your dog relies on you to provide daily exercise and nutrition, and when we give dogs these two simple things, it’s a form of affection. You’ll definitely notice the joyous look on their face when the leash comes out and how well they sleep afterwards. Daily exercise will also keep your dog at their ideal weight, making them healthier as well. When you walk or run with your dog, you form a strong bond with them which improves quality of life for the both of you and makes loving each other unconditionally easy (I’m not crying, you’re crying).


Okay, I get it, not everyone has time to be committed to pleasing a dog 24/7. If you’re a dog person, but have an on-the-go lifestyle, there are other options to have a Fido by your side during outdoor activities. One of the many ways to get quality pup time is by volunteering to walk puppies who are currently in a shelter by visiting The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website. In fact, exercising a shelter dog may help the pup get adopted faster by increasing their social interactions and allowing them to release pent up energy! The University of Missouri also concluded that you’ll be even less likely to cancel this exercise session due to your commitment toward an animal in need.. Talk about a win-win! Or, in other words, woof, woof!

Rachel Farr – AT, ATC, CSCS, NSCA – CPT,  MS in Exercise Science; BS in Athletic Training (Northern Michigan University)

The FIT Institute is a physical therapy and sports performance facility in North Center. We increase the of an athlete’s career by teaching proper movement patterns that often lead to overuse injuries, we do this by bridging the gap between physical therapy and sports performance.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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