But there's good news for the reluctant exerciser; a study from George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services shows yet another positive link between owning a pet, suggesting that pets can make us healthy.
The study followed 916 people split into three categories: those with dogs who walked them regularly, those with dogs who didn't walk them regularly, and those with no dogs. Dog owners who regularly walked their dogs had lower Body Mass Index than any other group, were generally more active, and reported fewer chronic conditions and depression symptoms.
"There's definitely a relationship between the exercise you do with your pet and the psychological and physical benefits for you," Dr. Katherine Miller, Assistant Science Advisor at the ASPCA, told me. "There's research showing people who have physical ailments or have been hospitalized and have a dog at home tend to recover more quickly and express more satisfaction with their lives."
Even those without pets have sought ways to glean some of the health benefits of spending time with dogs. New York City's Animal Care and Control operates a program that allows volunteers to sign up to walk pound dogs in their spare time.
"We have had people coming in to volunteer or that's been one of their reasons for adopting an animal - not only for companionship but because they wanted to start to exercise," Barbara Tolan, the program's Coordinator of Events and Volunteers, told me. "They knew that having a dog would get them outside more. Even having a cat would get them up and around the apartment more."
Improving Health: Dog Intervals
Before you start thinking about an exercise routine with your pooch, there are some important things to consider. Number one is the kind of dog you have and how compatible they'll be with your routine. Chihuahua's probably won't appreciate you bringing them along on a super long run every day.
"I have a Mini Dachsund, and I run her for about half a mile," Tolan told me. "I do a run/walk with her. I run for a minute and then do a three-minute walk. I've also done speed walking with weights, I'll hold two pound dumbbells in my hand and speed walk. She seems to like that a lot."
Miller agrees that, even with bigger dogs, interval training is an ideal way for dogs to work out. "That's great for dogs because that's how they naturally run," Miller said. "You see a dog off a leash and he'll run around a little bit, stop and sniff around, then he'll run off again. They can keep running longer, but they're happier if they can have those little sniff breaks."
You should also pay close attention to your dog if they have any pre-existing health issues that might be exacerbated by hearty exercise. Dogs can sometimes be so loyal that they'll work themselves to a point of breakdown if you're not paying attention.
"Dogs will run through their pain because they're having fun with you, but you're the coach," Miller said. "You can pull out your players when they're injured, so watch throughout the exercise session how your dog looks. If he's dragging a little, limping, or he seems to be a little stiff, back off. He probably won't tell you until it's too late."
Even if you can't get out for an extended workout, there are a several ways to stay active with your dog indoors. Miller recommends a few games you can play with a dog in an apartment that will get you both moving without pushing things too hard.
Playing Games of All Sorts with Dogs Can Improve Health and Make You Healthy
You can play a simple game of fetch, tug-of-war with a rope. Another good choice is hide and seek where one person holds the dog in place while you hide in another room. When the dog finds you, you can give him a toy and play with him excitedly for a few minutes before trying it again.
While you'll get a healthy boost from exercising with your pet, there can be some great benefits for the dog too. Your pet will not only be happier and leaner, but he or she may well be better behaved. "A tired dog is a good dog," Miller said. "The more energy they expend during exercise and play the less they have for being naughty."
Pet Fitness Coach
Finally, exercising with a dog is a great way to prevent you from relapsing into old habits. Once you get your dog acclimated to going out for a run or play at a certain time they'll quickly expect it and help you keep the routine with their anticipation.
"They're very good at telling time, it's like they have little sundials in their head," Miller said. "If it's the time of day they're expecting to exercise they'll likely be more hyper and expectant."
Maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle is a challenge, and involves coordinating a lot of different elements. There is no one miracle approach waiting to be discovered. What does seem to be true is that having fun is a great motivator. No small wonder that dog walkers tend to be healthier and happier.