By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
My family expanded by one this holiday season. Fresh off a plane from Serbia, our new dog arrived, sleepy and confused. After 30 hours of flight time, including two layovers, our black German shepherd warily exited his crate and slept quietly on the ride to his new home. My husband, who has a strong background in the law enforcement sector, decided to name him 5-0 (five-oh) as in Hawaii 5-0, which actually stands for “police”. It’s fitting because our little guy, 22 months old, is a graduate of a special Serbian dog academy that trains these pups to become A+ protection dogs. It’s been a dream of my hubby to have one of these remarkably skilled canines as his companion. This was 5-0’s first Xmas in the USA and we showered him with love and attention. Our guy was getting lots of tummy rubs and playing endless games of tug of war. And while he was getting adapted to us, oh boy were we getting adapted to him.
Funny thing about dogs: they need beaucoup walks. First, there are the P+P (pee ‘n poop) treks. While doing my first walk with 5-0, I started having flashbacks to my childhood, when my family had two St. Bernards. At full growth, Gabriel (the male) weighed 210 pounds and Brandy (his sis) weighed a girly 175 pounds. Listen, you didn’t walk them, they walked you. And when they engaged in a P+P, especially number two, people would literally stop their cars and watch in disbelief. As a kid, I was mortified. But we loved them and they returned the favor with endless, sloppy licks.
Aside from the P+P adventures, 5-0 needs his exercise walks. That means my husband and I get the exercise as well. It’s interesting how fast one’s moaning and whining about the hassle of getting up and walking melts away when you have a furry, warm-blooded critter who is completely dependent upon you for survival standing before you wagging his tail, eager to rock and roll. It’s also curious how quickly we can forget the discomfort of the cold, or the interruption in our usual daily work, as we submerse ourselves in the moment. Then you meet other dog owners along the way and voila, next thing you know, talking away with a fellow canine fan, you’re walking twice as far as you originally meant to.
Once you’ve got a dog, you’re suddenly aware of all things canine. I just returned from a trip to visit my parents in So. California. As I ran along the beach, I stumbled on a real “doggie beach”. Every imaginable breed of dog was romping in the waves and frolicking with the other furry creatures. I kept thinking of the gifts 5-0 has given me so far. As much as I love the outdoors already, I find myself going out much more often and am eternally grateful to 5-0 for providing the reason to do so. Thanks little buddy.
Now, for all of you out there who don’t have a dog, here’s my advice: walk your dog twice a day…even if you don’t have one! How about doing something radical like treating yourself like a beloved companion and taking yourself out for a walk? Think about the mental state you’re in when you prepare to walk a dog and put yourself right there. It’s good for you in every way. Buy a leash or hang a colorful ribbon and keep it near the front door to remind you to walk you!
Need some prompting? Have a look at just a few of walking’s benefits:
· 30%–40% reduction in the risk of heart disease
· 50% reduction in the risk of premature death
· 20% reduction in the risk of stroke
· Reduces your risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes
· Elevates overall mood and sense of well-being
· Increases fat cell metabolism so you’re burning fat
· Gives you a golden opportunity to engage and strengthen your core muscles
· Gets you out socializing and communing with nature
· Burning at least 100 cals/mile at a 15 min/mile pace
What’s more is that, like pennies in a piggy bank, every time you get up and do five minutes here and 10 minutes there, you’re gradually accruing the benefits I’ve just outlined. No Olympic camp needed. However, it would be terrific if you could apply High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to your walking. That means don’t walk like a zombie. Warm up for 5-10 minutes, and then either speed it up or add resistance (e.g. a hill) and increase your effort enough so that you cannot carry ona conversation. Keep it at that pace for about a minute and then bring it down again to your baseline brisk walking. HIIT is all relative to your current state. So, if you’re a beginner, simply ramp it up a bit. Soon you’ll be able to do more and more, building a strong base of endurance. Also, the great benefit to HIIT is that you can finish your workout much faster and burn more fat than if you walked a consistent slower pace over a longer period of time. What a royal win win!
Convinced? Terrific. Hey, isn’t it time for your walk?
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