dogs · fitness

Can fit be a canine issue, too? Dogs and human health

This week, a couple of “having a dog is good for your health” studies came out. One of them , a systematic review of medical studies on associations of dog ownership with health, found a 24% reduced mortality risk across various groups in studies done in several countries. The other one other one found a 21% reduced mortality risk (risk of death from any cause) for people with heart disease. Here’s a bit more detail about this study from the journal commentary:

The effect was remarkably consistent across various demographic subgroups but was modified by the number of individuals in the household: single-person households with dogs were associated with a markedly greater reduction in all-cause mortality than multi-person households. Interestingly, the effect appeared to be somewhat larger for owners of more active breeds like pointers and hunting dogs, possibly due to their need for greater physical activity.

This stands to reason. If you live alone and have a dog, you have to take care of it– feed, walk, play with, throw chew toys around with, etc. And if you have a more active dog, that dog will want and need more stimulation and activity. So you get the same as you take care of your dog. And this is good for you.

Of course, you may be asking the question: does finding an association mean that have a dog causes better health? No. The journal editor made this clear:

… Pet owners tend to be younger, wealthier, better educated, and more likely to be married, all of which improve cardiovascular outcomes… individuals who own a dog may have higher disposable incomes than those who do not. High incomes are in turn associated with a lower prevalence of tobacco use, diabetes, and obesity in the population, so the observed relationship between pet ownership and outcomes may be partially due to socioeconomic factors… Finally, the association between dog ownership and good health may even be reverse causal because adults with excellent physical health are more likely to adopt a dog than those who are too ill or frail to care for a pet…

But, the editor continues, it’s consistent with what we know about human biology that dog ownership has all sorts of positive physical effects on people. And,

…the most salient benefits of dog ownership on cardiovascular outcomes are likely mediated through large and sustained improvements in mental health, including lower rates of depression, decreased loneliness, and increased self-esteem. This may explain why the effect appears to be larger for individuals living alone than those in multi-person households.

The upshot, for me, is this: I should get a dog.

I’ve wanted to get a dog for years. I’ve hemmed and hawed and dragged my feet and trotted out excuses– I’m too busy! I travel too much! My life is already full! I’m not a morning person!

All of these things are true. But I keep coming back to this imperative: Catherine, you need a dog in your life. I do think that, once we (my future dog and me) get settled into a routine, I’ll wonder why I didn’t do this 30 years earlier. (I did grow up with dogs, so I know what I’d be getting into).

Dogs are not fitness accessories like gym memberships or shiny new bikes. They’re creatures with wants and needs who are utterly dependent on us. The seriousness of taking on the care of another creature is what’s given me pause all these years. But I keep coming back to the question: should I get a dog now? How about now?

My inner conversation hasn’t gone anywhere yet, except to endless online perusing of rescue dog sites and breed information gathering. But I am putting this out there as a step forward in the process.

Question to you, dear readers: what are some ways having a dog has affected your health or fitness? Have there been changes? I’d love to hear from you.

dogs · family · hiking · nature

Walking in the woods with Cheddar and Gavin

Walking is tricky these days. I have good days and I have bad days. I’ve been worried about my future walking. I’ve been jealous of friends posting very high step counts on social media and angry at friends who say they can’t imagine a life without walking.

Saturday was glorious. Here in Guelph it was 13 degrees and sunny. Cheddar needed walking and my son, Gavin, and I wanted to go back to the Rockwood Conservation Area. I did all the right things. I’d biked that morning (Zwift in Central Park), and stretched, and taken pain killers. My knee is always better after riding and that’s a great thing.

I’d just a read a story about seniors with knee osteoarthiritis being encouraged to take brisk walks. So I figured an afternoon dog hike might be a good thing, on balance.

Also, I read that taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature will significantly lower your stress hormone levels. It had been a stressful week at work. I needed this walk more than Cheddar.

It worked! We walked 5 km on mostly level trails and boardwalks, saw some beautiful scenery, met lots of dogs, and had a great afternoon. I was relieved that my dog hike days aren’t over. I think Cheddar was happy too!

Here he is with other family pets napping after the walk.

dogs · walking

Sam and Cheddar go walking in the dark

Image description: A square of blue with text that reads in white and red, ‘This whole dark at 5 pm is really messing with me.’

I’ve lived through one week now of the dreaded evening dark that comes with the end of daylight savings time. You know how much I hate November and the dark. I don’t know if it’s full blown SAD but I’m pretty miserable for a usually very happy person.

My complaint against the end of daylight savings is simple. I’m an early riser so it’s always dark when I get up. But dark by end of the workday just about kills. It means I ride home in the dark.

I can’t drive in the dark and so I can feel stuck in the house in the winter. I’ve written about my eyes and their issues here.

But lately I’ve been walking Cheddar in the evening, taking him on longer strolls. Walking him in the dark takes some adjustment on both of our parts. He’s not happy about it. Neither is this dog walker in the piece For the love of dogs make day light savings permanent.

The end of daylight savings doesn’t suit his dogs.

“There is nothing worse than a pack of energetic dogs and not even a moment of daylight to get them some illuminated exercise after work during dark winter months.”

I’m not sure if I’ll try to change my schedule to walk him longer in the mornings. That seems unlikely to succeed. Certainly there’ll be more weekend daytime walking. And for now we’ll try to get used to the dark.

What do you and your dog do once the evening dark arrives?

Sam sad selfie going for a night walk with dog. She’s wearing a red and orange knitted hat, a black scarf, and a big back fluffy coat

Cheddar, the dog, under a streetlight staring at leaves

cycling · dogs

Sam has Fun with Canoes and Bikes and Dogs

Bike and canoe, I’ve missed you both. It’s been too long. There’s been a lot of bike commuting, boating of various kinds, dog walking, and weight lifting but precious little time for weekend long rides or weekends away paddling, let alone time for weeks away. Unlike Kim I haven’t managed a real vacation this summer. Why? Well, we’re still unpacking as we stare down the barrel of the start of the academic year. It’s been a summer that’s focused on moving houses really. Yikes.

My canoe was still in its canoe bag and my bike’s Garmin isn’t exactly racking up the miles.

The immediate future isn’t looking much better either. Come September every single weekend is spoken for. And don’t get me started on the subject of losing our evening light.

Instead, what I am doing is grabbing time when I can.

After our canoe camping trip in Killarney was aborted (that’s another story for a different blog post) we substituted instead a day canoeing on the French River on Friday. I was so happy paddling. I’ve booked a few weekdays off to get out and do it again. French River, we’ll be back!

Late Friday night we ended up back in Guelph for the rest of the weekend.

Selfie of Sam in a purple cap, no glasses, holding a canoe paddle, in front of Recollet Falls on the French River. 

Recollet Falls, French River

Our lunch stop on the French River

Saturday, I was determined to get out on my bike. I needed to ride. But the weather had other ideas. Torrential rain, thunder showers, winds 30 km/hr gusting to 50 km/hr. I’m tough, and I thought about riding anyway, but I’m not foolhardy. So on Sunday I was single-minded. Yes, there was lots to do about the house but I was going for a bike ride.

Sarah and I hopped on our bikes and did our usual route past campus out into the countryside. Here’s me by one of my favourite local roads, Hume Road. That’s me below in my Rotman Institute jersey from Western University. I need a Guelph jersey, with a gryphon. Hint! It was just 33 km but we went fast and raced some of the Strava segments. I was amused when we got back that Strava informed me that I was working harder than I usually did. That’s because I usually commute in a dress and sandals! It wasn’t really a long, weekend ride but it met my need to get out on my bike.

Sam on her bike wearing black shorts on a Western bike jersey–white trimmed wit black and purple–stopped in front of the Hume Road sign. 

We got home and had to walk dogs. So went to Starkey Hill Conservation Area and took Cheddar (and Gavin’s dogsitting charge Cooper) on the trails through the park. After we got home I got a beep on my phone. It was Google Fit telling me I’d met my active minutes goal for the week. Thanks Google. Time to up the active minutes goal from the default, I think.

All in all, a happy, active long weekend. Dog hikes, canoe trips, and bike rides are three of my favourite things. Not exactly vacation but boating, biking, and dog hiking with some of my favourite people and dogs. I’ll take it. I’m also booking now some long holidays for next summer.

Selfie of Sam and Cooper, a 16 month old golden retriever.

dogs · hiking · walking · winter

Winter Camping with a Beast (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

A few weeks ago, during March Break, I went winter camping! It was a short 24-hour trip due to an extremely busy life and getting our house ready to sell.

It was me, my younger brother, and our dog Cheddar. It was Cheddar’s first time camping and he was the best-behaved camping beast you could expect! We were the only people I saw in tents, everyone else was in a yurt or a trailer. When we first arrived we set up our tent and put Cheddar on a long leash to explore our campsite. We put a tarp on the ground for him to lay down on during the afternoon (he slept in the tent with us at night).

Then we went hiking. It’s always interesting to see what the parks look like in winter- frozen ponds and lakes, snow, ski tracks.

After hiking, we had a campfire and cooked our dinner. All our normal camping dishes were in storage so we cooked using no dishes- we roasted veggie skewers with vegetables, smoked tofu, halloumi cheese (which has a higher melting point so it doesn’t melt when you toast it). Then, of course, s’mores for dessert! As soon as it got dark (~8:30pm), Cheddar decided it was bedtime. He started circling us, going into the tent and looking at us (“Are you coming?”), coming back out to get us. We gave in after about ten minutes of this and curled up in the tent with him. It is very helpful to have a warm, furry beast in your tent. Especially a Cheddar-beast who loves to be as close to his people as possible and loves sleeping under the covers with you.

When we woke up in the morning and got up (12 hours later), he was still sound asleep in the tent and even looked at us as if to say “Do we have to get up yet?”. But he cheerfully got up once we got his leash out for a W-A-L-K (if you have a dog you know why we need to spell that word!). A couple hours more of hiking and we headed home. A successful 24-hour camping trip with a beast.

Mallory Brennan is many things. She’s the daughter of Samantha (and Jeff!), part-owner of Cheddar the dog, lover of the outdoors, hater of shoes, singer, conductor, and traveler.

dogs · fitness

Lost Without My Doggo (Tails From the Woods)

Hi. This is me, still not doing very much by way of movement. . .EXCEPT. . .dog walking.

In this post I will contemplate the different types of dog walks as I see them. You can argue with me, but I just made this all up so you can be right if you want.

Basic walk: This is the 7:45am walk around the small park. It is necessary for the dog’s health and short because I (or you, or someone) has to go to work or school. The dog loves it and the human just needs it to be over (1km).

Panic walk: This walk happens right before you have to do something important but the dog needs it and you love the dog. So you walk very fast and yell at the dog to stop checking every bit of pee-mail she has and lets go because you need to move. (1km)

Information gathering from teenager walk: This is the one you ask your teen kid to come on with you so that the dog gets a walk and you maybe get some info (intel) on their life or the life of a sibling. Children who are looking in the same direction as the adult talk more than children being directly interrogated. Don’t believe me? Try it. Car ride, swings in the park, park bench, ski lift or. . .dog walk. (1.8km)

Hang out with a spouse walk: The spouse you never see. Ya, that one. Go for a dog walk, get a coffee, don’t forget the Timbit for the dog. (1.8km)A happy yellow lab standing in snow looking up. There are snowshoes with boots in them all around the frame

It’s so cold I hate you dog walk: This is the walk that you wish you never owned a dog for. Except she is so happy and loves you for taking her, so I guess it’s okay and she can stay, but I can’t feel my face. (1km)

Cottage road dog walk: Casual, delightful, you remembered to put your snow pants on so you are not too freezing. Love the cottage road dog walk. (1.5km)

Forest tromp with dog: Snow! Forest! Happiest dog ever in the world. These are the best walks. They can be casual and slow or fast and sweaty. Everyone is having a good time, especially the dog. Let’s face it, the dog always has a good time. (4km)

It doesn’t matter what state you are in or I am in or how long it’s been since I wore running shoes. It doesn’t matter if I’m depressed and peri-menopausal and hate everyone. The dog is always up for a walk and the dog is always happy. Therefore, I walk the dog and the fog of life lifts just a little bit. May your year be full of happy dog walks or some equivalent even if you don’t feel very fit and even if you are exhausted trying to be a feminist in these weird times. Dogs see your potential. Dogs know you’ve got this. Dogs think you are a-okay.

dogs

Who’s taking the dogs out? Woof, woof

In times of stress, it seems we all are. I’ve been dog hiking a lot lately. Cate explored the kinds of things we do to find meaning in the world in the face of despair in her recent post on sadness and moments of grace . For me, it’s always walking with dogs in the woods. It’s a time and a place of calm and joy. And while I could experience the woods on my own there is just something very special about spending time on a trail through the woods in the company of a dog.

It’s guaranteed to lift my mood. I think it’s because you can’t help but see the world from the dog’s eye point of view. Mud! Puddles! Squirrels! Sticks! Ponds!

Susan visited last Monday we walked Shelby (left) and Cheddar (right) through the Westminster Ponds. Shelby and Cheddar are very good friends. Susan and me, too.

Sarah visited Sunday and we planned to revisit that route with Cheddar, below. (Thanks Google for the prettified image.)

But my mum hurt her back that day and sent us a message, “Could you take the little guy too?” The “little guy” is Charlie, her new rescue dog. We were a bit concerned about how’d he’d be a long walk through the woods. Turns out he was just fine. Charlie hopped over logs and frolicked through the leaves. He drew the line at swimming in the ponds. Too cold.

Here’s Cheddar and Charlie:

Turns out it’s not just us hiking with dogs in the woods. It’s also Hillary and Bill Clinton.

I’ve been feeling so heartbroken since yesterday’s election and decided what better way to relax than take my girls hiking. So I decided to take them to one of favorite places in Chappaqua. We were the only ones there and it was so beautiful and relaxing. As we were leaving, I heard a bit of rustling coming towards me and as I stepped into the clearing there she was, Hillary Clinton and Bill with their dogs doing exactly the same thing as I was. I got to hug her and talk to her and tell her that one of my most proudest moments as a mother was taking Phoebe with me to vote for her. She hugged me and thanked me and we exchanged some sweet pleasantries and then I let them continue their walk. Now, I’m not one for signs but I think ill definitely take this one. So proud. #iamstillwithher #lovetrumpshate#keepfighting #lightfollowsdarkness

See the story here.