A person can learn a lot from a dog. He taught me how to appreciate the simple things…about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty. ~ Author John Grogan, Marley and Me
Hi everyone, I’m Pebbles. As you can see from the pic on the left, I’m a greyhound. My Dad owns Strength Clinic Orlando and seems to think he’s got this fitness thing down. And to his credit, he’s pretty good. Dad learned a long time ago to streamline workouts down to only the most productive things — and get rid of the rest. He says this is more effective and gives you time to do other stuff — like walking your dog for instance. See, he is smart 🙂
Besides following the clinical research and observing what works in the real word, Dad says he’s learned a lot about fitness by observing us dogs. Here are just a few good things about fitness we have taught him over the years:
This may seem obvious, but as dogs, our weight is mostly controlled by how much we eat. If we’re overweight it’s because we’re consistently fed too much. The reason my late sister, Lucy, and I always maintained the appropriate weight was because we were fed the recommended amount of food each day. This also meant we never got table scraps or unlimited dog treats. Some people mistake food for love, but dogs truly become your best friend with the right amount of exercise, discipline, and affection.
That said, let me tell you a thing about hunger that he observed by watching us. Lucy and I received about the same amount of food each day, but she seemed to have a blunted hunger response compared to my exaggerated one. I just never felt as full as her, and was always looking for more. Dad thinks this hunger variability exists in people as well, and may partially explain why some people struggle so much when they diet.
As with dogs, slimming down is mostly about controlling food intake. Just like a vet will tell you to us lighter calories dog food and follow recommended portion sizes to help your dog lose weight, the total amount you eat daily plays a primary factor in your weight. For those people that have an exaggerated hunger response, research has highlighted a number of interesting strategies that can help moderate hunger. Meal timing, eating speed, and even plate sizes have been shown to help people with weight loss success.
Ever watch dogs play at a dog park? We just love exhausting ourselves in short burst of energy and will run, jump, chase, and even swim if we get the chance! Dogs know that if our bodies are to remain robust, strong, and agile we need to occasionally go all out or we will prematurely slow down – you know, the old “use it or lose it” idea. Some of the benefits of high intensity play include:
- Helps to reduce digestive problems and constipation.
- Helps to build confidence and reduce behavioral issues.
- Helps with restlessness and improves sleeping habits.
- Helps with weight control.
Speaking of weight control, high intensity play can set the stage for quicker results. One of the best ways to do this is by playing fetch with us or getting us to sprint around the yard (my favorite!).
One word of caution, however. Be conscious of how intense exercise affects your dog’s joints. Too much can result in joint inflammation and muscle strains — so please keep an eye out for that.
It is hard to oversell the benefits of high intensity exercise. Dad says high intensity exercise can lead to greater insulin sensitivity (to help limit fat accumulation), strengthen muscles and bones, boost organ functioning, and even provide cardio improvements not seen in lower intensity cardio activities like walking or jogging.
The trick is to realize all the benefits without putting yourself in harms way. The best way to do this is through high intensity strength training. The risk is minimal compared to other high intensity efforts like sprinting or jumping around. As a bonus, it’s also very time efficient — requiring well under an hour per week.
Dogs love to go on walks. It’s mentally stimulating and relaxes us. In fact, if your dog is acting up or has behavioral issues, Cesar Milan (you know, the Dog Whisperer), recommends walking your dog as a fundamental tool to help keep her emotionally balanced, “Walking with your dog is a primal activity. It is hardwired into her brain to migrate with her pack.”
So don’t skimp on our walks. Remember, it’s not natural for us to be cooped up inside all day long. Take us outside and let us connect with both nature and you — by leading us on a long walk.
The best part about walking (or a similar activity) is that it provides an emotional lift. The movement, fresh air, and enhanced blood flow conspire together to balance out your mood. Dad says research indicates exercise helps normalize sleep, mitigate stress, and can even help alleviate long term depression. So take it from this greyhound, get out there and move! No need to over do it — just do what feels right.
My Dad thinks I’m pretty amazing. While all greyhounds were bred to run, I’ve been able to do it for over a year with just three legs!
Let me back up a bit.
About a year and a half ago I started having some pretty bad pain in my left rear leg. A couple of x-ray later and we discovered it was osteosarcoma…bone cancer. The good news was that it was localized and had not migrated to the chest. The bad news was the limb needed to be removed.
It wasn’t and easy thing to do, but Dad decided to move forward with the amputation and later, chemotherapy. I’m not going to sugar coat it, and say it was a fun experience — but we got through it because…well, we didn’t have any other options. And I have to say after nearly a year and a half later, I’m glad we did. That…and it sure beats the alternative!
Resiliency is one thing dogs have that people can learn from. We suffer pain, injury, and setback just like you do, but don’t amplify the situation with head trash that can paralyze us and make things worse. We just keep on keeping on.
You are going to have life situations that get in the way of your goals — fitness and otherwise. Work obligations, family commitments, vacations…the list goes on. And like me, you might even get sick. The key is to deal with your setback, and then get back on track as quick as possible. The reality is a strong commitment to fitness will pay dividends in nearly every aspect of your life.
Bottom line, if I can still run and jump with three legs, I think you can exercise too! There are ways to work around existing injuries, deal with time crunched schedules, and even do it with little-to-no equipment. The key is to seek the best advice, get started, and never quit!
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I usually spend my day napping away, but writing this was a nice change of pace. I also hope you realize that fitness for both people and dogs is a relatively straight-forward process. The basics will get it done every time. For more information on how to improve both your dog’s fitness and also your relationship with him or her, I recommend reading Cesar Milan’s book, Cesar’s Way. And if you need help getting your own fitness life handled, contact my Dad. As I said before, he’s pretty good with this stuff. 🙂
Pebbles Sue, October 2014