Articles

Exercise Your Way to Happiness

One of the things I dreaded when adopting a dog, was the inevitable fact that I was going to have to walk my new pup.

Daily.

Rain or shine.

You see – I have never been much into exercise. I hated PE classes at school, was terrible at sport and refused to run for years because it is, like, so undignified. Little did I realise that this whole dog walking business would actually turn into one of my favourite activities, greatly benefiting me on both a physical and emotional level.

Dogs need exercise. In the wild, the ancestors of the domestic dogs (wolves) can cover up to 50 kilometres a day. Depending on your particular pooch, anywhere from 20 minutes up to several hours a day can be required to meet their individual breed energy requirements. But walks are also mentally engaging, and give your pup new information to process. Each day there are different smells from other dogs, animals and people – so the environment is constantly changing and stimulating. Running the dog around in your own back yard is not going to give them the same experience as a jaunt around the block. A good walk should be both physical and mental work for a dog, leaving them contentedly tuckered out when they get back home. A lack of proper exercise can lead to behavioural problems, depression and obesity which is definitely not something we want for our beloved dogs.

Us humans – we need exercise too. Unfortunately, our Western lives are becoming increasingly sedentary and the most strenuous activity some people see in a day is opening a tight jar of peanut butter. Not quite what our caveman ancestors got up to every day. Without regular exercise burning excess calories from our food intake, weight can easily pile on and lead to a host of unwanted health problems including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes to name a few.

But asides from these huge health bombs, a lack of exercise can mess with our serotonin levels. Serotonin is a nifty little neurotransmitter that contributes to our mood, behaviour and sleep. Low serotonin levels are believed to be partially responsible for depression, anxiety and insomnia. Exercising just 30 minutes a day can increase your brain serotonin levels immediately, and help to lift your mood. This is why some form of exercise is often described to patients suffering from depression – it is a natural, easy and free way to improve how you are feeling.

Being a newly reformed exercise shunner, I had to actually go into training to prepare for the daily walks Neve would require. I walked around the block once a day for a whole month before bringing Neve home. At that time – I didn’t know it was Neve I was adopting, but I was sure my pup was going to be a greyhound. Being a responsible pet owner means researching the breed before committing to bring a new dog into your life. A misconception about greyhounds is that they need hours of exercise a day. The truth is actually  the polar opposite. Greyhounds sleep between 18 to 20 hours a day and need only to be walked 20 – 30 minutes once a day. They are sprinters, not marathon runner (think cheetahs). This level of exercise was something I was comfortable with, and knew I would be able to stick to. It is important to to match yourself with a breed that has similar energy requirements. A husky would be great for an avid long distance runner, but not so much for an old lady with a bad hip.

During my training, I noticed myself feeling perkier. I looked forward to my walks and would come home feeling positive and energised. Once Neve arrived, we bonded during our daily exercise and it became my favourite time spent with her. Once we got over her car phobia, our walks went next level. We loved getting out and spending time in nature. Hiking along the rugged coastline is something we both relish. The burning lungs and aching muscles were totally worth our trips to the local harbour lookout. Without having the responsibility of dog walking to push me, I would have not realised how much I enjoyed hikes in nature and the positive influence exercise could have on my mood.

So I encourage you to grab a lead and get our there with your dog. Maybe go somewhere new you can both explore. Get the blood pumping and serotonin levels a-jumping. If you don’t have a pooch of your own, you could offer to walk a neighbour and friends dog. Of course – you don’t need a furry companion to exercise. Get on a bike, join a class or do some dancing in your living room. Move your body and see why exercise is good for the soul.

Love and happy-tired pups,

Ollie Neveu