Walk With Me
It is undisputed that walking is good for you. Evolution helped shape the human body to stand up and walk, early homo sapien fossils are often referred to as homo erectus became the defining quality of the human body which was standing upright. This got early people up and moving and walking became the defining movement of our species.
When you walk you defy the biggest risk to human health, sitting down. On average, people sit on for 10-12 hours of the day, that is an estimated average. There are others whose work life, special interests and social connections involve you guessed it, sitting down. Sitting for this amount of your life can increase mental and physical health risks. Walking on a daily basis, even a short walk can improve circulation which correlates with risk of heart disease, helps maintain blood pressure, increases blood flow to the brain, improves cognitive abilities and mental well-being and a whole host of other benefits. The biggest inhibitor to walking isn’t that people disregard the value of exercise or walking in general but there are daily hurdles of time, motivation and convenience which create habits which prevent this vital movement.
There’s a parable I love that goes: “A grandmother is talking to her granddaughter and says, “In life, there are two wolves inside all of us that are always at battle. One is a good wolf who represents qualities like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf who represents greed, hatred and fear.” The granddaughter contemplates this and looks at her grandmother and says, “grandmother, which one wins?” and the grandmother says, “the one you feed”.
We all are faced with choices on a daily basis and the duality of the wolves in the parable are a great metaphor for the habits we choose to create by way of feeding the so called “bad wolf”. The beauty of sharing your life with a dog is you have this furry little guilt trip who is always willing to go for a walk. If the guilt or the promise of significantly improving health for both you and your canine companion is not enough to get you moving, how about the fact that regular exercise can serve as a physical outlet for your dog’s species specific behavior. This means if you don’t exercise your dog on a regular basis, you will experience more behavioral problems as they look for other outlets for their behavior like chewing, jumping, barking or running laps around the house. One of the most common problems in the companion dog and human relationship is our desire to love these animals with food over physical play and exercise. The canine obesity epidemic is so alarming due to the fact that dogs are not in control over their resources on a daily basis. People are now pushing their bad habits onto their dogs. Overweight dogs are at risk for more health problems, experience less of the world and die sooner than dogs in good health. Blame and shame is not the goal here, but rather, motivation to consider your dog’s well-being as a mutualistic benefit for you both to get moving. So if you won’t do it for you, do it for your furry canine companion who gives you so much.
As an added benefit recent studies are examining the relationship between dogs and people who synchronize their movements. Scientists have been examining a natural tendency toward synchronizing behaviors in species that share an environment. “Synchronizing occurs to be a general phenomenon among all social creatures. People tend to walk in step and sway together in separate rocking chairs. Even dolphins have been observed to breath in synch.” (Dogs Synchronize Body Movements With Humans, Alex Berezow). A recent study examined 48 dogs and their owners and observed when dogs would match human behaviors like walking, standing, looking at objects (like doors), when the movement was initiated with humans. The results were 80% of the time the dogs stayed within 3 feet of the people and displayed what they refer to as location, activity and temporal synchrony with the human guardians. What does this mean for you and your dog? The simplest way to practice this bonding experience of synchronization is going for a walk together.
If you feel like you don’t have time, consider the amount of time you look at your phone (your phone can track it within its systems or external apps), how much time you spend with the television, what time you wake up and go to bed. Start small, set an alarm or reminder to give yourself the time. Make it a priority. If you begin a regular daily, short and brisk walk (ideally in a nature setting) you and your dog will have significant long term health benefits. You may also start to notice a decrease in unwanted habits in both your dog and your own impulses and deepen your bond through not only synchronizing activities, but also by being empathic toward the needs of another living creature. As an added bonus, dogs often have a way of bringing people together. I now know far more people in my community just from walking my dog. I meet other dog walkers, neighbors putting out the trash, people working in their yard, chat with people at coffee shops all because I am hanging out with a handsome dog who gets a lot of attention. Dogs can be a wonderful social lubricant if we have withdrawn into our own worlds.
So, stop reading, and go for a walk. Seriously, right now. Go!