If you have a dog and you also obsessively track your steps on Fitbit, we’ve got good news: Fido could be helping you walk an average of 22 more minutes per day compared to those without dogs, according to a study conducted earlier this year. In fact, walking a dog may give you all the exercise you need, since 22 minutes of brisk walking on a daily basis comes to a total of 154 minutes a week of moderate physical activity each week. That’s a full four minutes more than the minimum the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends in order to stay healthy.
The study, which was published in BMC Public Health, monitored the physical activity levels of 43 sets of dog-owning and non-dog-owning adults over the course three separate weeks. The results were pretty clear: As the researchers wrote in their paper, owning a dog had a “large, potentially health improving, average effect” on most adults’ health. On average, dog owners took an extra 2,760 steps a day and walked an extra 22 minutes a day. Those added steps weren’t carried out at a leisurely pace, either—dog owners walked at a moderate intensity, which is exactly what the CDC recommends for adults’ 150 minutes of weekly exercise.
Previous studies about the health benefits of walking your dog have had similar findings. One word of warning, however. While walking your slobbery ball of fluff may help you get your cardio in, the CDC still recommends two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercise a week, like weight lifting or body weight workouts—so don’t replace all of your gym sessions with a dog walk. However, if you decide to do some heavy gardening with Fido by your side or a yoga flow class at the park after your walk, the CDC does count that as a muscle-strengthening session.
Past research has shown that dogs can have a positive effect on other aspects of their owners’ health, as well. Petting a friendly dog can quickly decrease a person’s levels of stress and bring down their blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Dog owners have been found to have lower levels of cholesterol, and owning a pet has been linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety. Looking at pictures of cute puppies can even reignite the spark in your marriage!
So, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to stop by an animal shelter to adopt a pooch, now you have one! And it’s a win-win for everyone involved.