Walking Your Dog Is Not Exercise

I deceive myself. 

Listen here

I walk almost 20,000 steps a day, ride a bike most afternoons for about an hour, lift weights several mornings a week, and even do a high intensity workout for 15 minutes on those mornings I’m not doing the strength training.

I’m in great shape.

And, then I take a rake and stir up the mulch in our gardens and my body tells me the truth. I’m writing these words just minutes after coming in from doing that job. Clearly, I’m not in the kind of shape I think I am.

I’ve actually been working on being relentlessly honest with myself. I think I’m getting better, but I still have more work to do. Why is this important? Because our deepest beliefs drive our actions…or inactions.

The yard work this morning revealed an area of my fitness that is weak. I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I CAN NOT continue to believe that the exercise I’m doing is ALL I NEED. I may need to do something different…something that might be uncomfortable and that I don’t like as much.

For a long time I believed that every one of my 20,000 steps is exercise. I even wrote as much in the early days of this blog. I no longer believe that. In fact, I now believe that very few of my steps rise to the level of exercise.

To be clear…every step is beneficial. Lots of research telling us that sitting is bad and movement is good. There are health benefits to all those steps. But, to reach the level the CDC recommends, which is 150 minutes of moderate level activity, I need to be moving at a certain speed for a certain amount of time. And, I’m not always doing that.

As I recently wrote, I have to intentionally walk faster to get my heart rate up enough to count as exercise. Consistent exercise unlocks even more health benefits.

And, that brings me to the point of this article. Unless you are walking your dog at 3 mph for about 22 minutes every day, it’s not exercise. And, just about everybody I see out with their dogs are walking much slower than me. Additionally, there’s all that stopping. Stopping to let passersby pet your dog, stopping to talk to other dog owners, and stopping just because your dog wants to.

I should mention, I am not a dog owner. The only dog I’ve ever had was a mutt named Brownie. I was seven years old and we didn’t keep him very long. As I remember, Brownie liked biting stuff…including me and my sisters and I’m guessing my parents eventually had enough and gave him to someone else.

Since then I’ve had multiple other negative encounters with dogs. So has my wife including a very scary few minutes while she was running. In other words, we both have a flinch factor. And, let me express how grateful I am to dog owners who pull the leash a little tighter when I walk by. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. You may know your dog is harmless, but I don’t.

That said, I also recognize the tight bond you have with your dog and how much a part of the family your pet has become and how much you enjoy walking together. Keep going!

But, don’t deceive yourself. It may be exercise for your dog, but it’s probably not exercise for you. Again, it’s beneficial, but unless you’re moving at 3 mph for 22 minutes, you’re not reaching the minimum amount of physical activity we need. You may already be ahead of me on this and you’ve long recognized that walking your dog is simply that…walking your dog and not a workout. I’m a little late to the “Don’t deceive yourself party.” But, if you do believe that walking your dog is exercise and it’s all you need, I hope you’ll at least take time to determine whether, in fact, you are moving fast enough.

And, just how do you figure that out? Sadly, my Fitbit doesn’t have a speedometer…and I’m guessing yours doesn’t either. Thankfully, it’s easy to figure out. Hop in your car and drive along the route you walk. Watch your odometer and take note of where you reach one mile. Next time you walk, start the stopwatch on your phone as you begin. When you reach that one mile point, check the stopwatch and see how long it took.

If it shows 20 minutes or less, then you are moving at least 3 mph. If you reached one mile in 15 minutes then you are going 4 mph. Good on you! If you are reaching these benchmarks while walking your dog, then you both are getting exercise as you walk. If not, you should be honest with yourself.

Since I’m not a dog owner I don’t know this for certain, but I’m guessing it isn’t easy to get your pet to move faster and not stop. They’re kinda like little kids that way. When our children were younger there wasn’t much we could do, but move at their speed and stop when they needed to.

If getting your dog to move faster isn’t going to happen there is one more option. Take a walk without your dog. All you need is 22 minutes at 3 mph every day and you will reach the minimum amount of exercise to start lowering your risk for all kinds of health problems…which makes it easier to keep walking your dog for many years and decades to come. 

Lastly, our good friends have a dog that I adore. His name is Mr. Darcy. He’s friendly, safe, and has a fun personality. If Mr. Darcy were my dog, I’d love taking him out for a walk and letting him go as slow as he wants and stop when he wants. And, when he was finished, I’d take him home throw on my headphones and go for another, faster, walk.

And, I’m sure I’d enjoy both the same.