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How Getting a Dog Brought Fitness Back Into My Life


This is a guest post by a friend and esteemed colleague, registered dietitian nutritionist Sally Kuzzemchak.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve consistently put exercise on the bottom of a bottomless to-do list. Though before-kids-me preferred hitting classes at the gym, after-kids-me knows I’ll be more successful if I simply build more natural activity into my day.

And a month ago, that suddenly happened. We got a dog.

Like most kids, ours bugged us for a dog. My husband and I debated. We hemmed and hawed. I scrolled through websites of local rescue agencies and wished a dog would just show up on our door and force the issue. Then one sort of did: When I mentioned to my sister-in-law that we were considering adopting a dog, she said she knew someone looking for a home for an older lab-pointer mix, Hopper. The next day, we were dog owners. (See Hopper, Sally and 7-year-old Sam pictured above.)

I knew having a dog would bring me companionship–someone waiting at the door when I got home and a pair of ears to scratch while sitting on the couch. What I didn’t anticipate is what it would do for my fitness level. Walking has always been more my speed than running, but having a dog suddenly gave walking a whole new purpose. True to his name, Hopper hops up and down at the door when he hears the word “walk”, and that sheer joy at the prospect of a stroll is downright contagious. Rather than feeling like a chore, our walks together have become breaks that I crave.

In these last few weeks, I’ve breathed in 10-degree winter air that was surprisingly refreshing, seen sunsets I would’ve otherwise missed, chatted with neighbors, looked at clouds, dreamed up ideas, and logged more steps than I ever would’ve without him. And all at a decidedly brisk pace: Hopper may be an older fellow, but his default pace is a quick Westminster Dog Show-style trot.

When we got Hopper, I took my FitBit out of retirement. Pre-dog, I barely logged 8,000 steps a day, thanks to a job that keeps me largely at my desk. Post dog, I’ve nearly doubled that. Now I’m pushing myself to make 12,000 steps my daily goal, then hopefully 15,000. Getting this daily exercise has even motivated me to take more strength training classes at our rec center. It seems like the more active I am, the more active I want to be. And my experience isn’t unique: According to researchers, dog owners tend to have higher levels of physical activity than other people.

Turns out, having a dog is going to be good for my heart in more ways than one.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families, and you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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About The Author

Elisa Zied is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist, author, speaker, and spokesperson. A trusted source of food, nutrition, and health information, Elisa has garnered millions of media impressions, lending her expertise and real-world perspective to dozens of TV shows, web sites, news organizations and magazines. She’s the author of four nutrition books and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her previous Food, Fitness & Fiction posts here and connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook.

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