Dog owners at Intermountain Healthcare 5k-9 say furry friends keep them moving
September 11, 2018
On Saturday morning, close to 100 dogs and their owners gathered in the Park City Hospital parking lot for the 5K-9 dog run. Intermountain Healthcare and Paws for Life, a no-kill shelter nonprofit, partnered for the event as a way to promote pet ownership and the health benefits that pet ownership brings.
"We deemed this run 'The New Leash on Life,' because we've found that pet owners get more exercise than non-pet owners," said Amy Tuddenham, a spokesperson for Intermountain.
Tuddenham said the run was part of a larger trend among health organizations to encourage people to take their health into their own hands.
"We do have options for you, but the best source of health is for you to take care of yourself," she said. And the responsibility of taking care of a pet, and dogs in particular, makes exercise easier by making it mandatory.
Indeed, walks are one of the main requirements of caring for a dog.
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"The most important thing that dogs need is exercise," said Cathy Boruch, director of Paws for Life Utah. "They need stimulation; they need to get out and be walked at least twice; three times a day."
And even modest additions to peoples' exercise routines can mean significant health improvements, especially in a country with more than 93 million people who self-report as obese, according to the Center for Disease Control. But dogs add to pet owners' activity levels regardless of the owners' fitness levels.
Stephanie Anaya, who finished second overall in Saturday's run, and was the fastest person around the course with a dog, said her border collie mix, Ozzy, is the best running partner.
As Anaya described her run, Ozzy pulled at his leash, tugging Anaya around the parking lot's grassy median, even after setting the fastest lap out of all the dogs.
"I'm a 5K junkie," Anaya said. "I actually had to bump up my mileage for him to get enough exercise. He's really crazy; he has a lot of energy and he just needs more exercise than 3 miles."
Anaya, who runs three or four days a week, said Ozzy – and dogs in general – make great running partners because they always want to run, and Ozzy only starts to slow down after 5 miles.
But the big benefits come in accountability. There's no negotiating with a dog.
"He just wants to go no matter what," she said. "If I don't want to go, he's not going to convince me that it's OK if I don't. He's like, 'I don't care if you don't want to go, we're going.' They don't have off days."
Laura Cipro, who crossed the finish line just after Anaya, agreed with the winner's assessment.
"I have two dogs, and I exercise with them every day," she said.
Not only does that keep her dogs well behaved, but it keeps her fitness level up.
She said she runs with her dogs "even in the cold weather when I wouldn't want to be out, or in the middle of the summer when it's really hot, because you have to take care of them, so it keeps you consistently active."
Anaya and Cipro's experiences with dogs are not unique. Observations like theirs reference the reasons that Intermountain supports pet ownership, and the organization's stance is backed up by a 2017 study by British researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of East Anglia. Out of 3,100 participants, there was a large gap in exercise between those who walked dogs and those who didn't. The study showed regular dog walkers stayed 20 percent more active in all weather conditions than those without dogs, and said regular dog walkers were more active on the worst weather days than non-dog owners were on the nicest.
Of course, more exercise doesn't necessarily make for good athletic technique.
When asked if Ozzy had made Anaya a stronger runner in particular, she said the answer was both yes and no.
The "Yes" referred to the fact that Ozzy makes her run farther and more often, and doesn't stop when going up hills.
The "No" was because Ozzy doesn't always stick with the program.
"If we want to do speed work and he sees a squirrel, he wants to go the other way – or if he wants to say hi to another dog," she said. "He gets distracted."
She said she tried life without a dog, and it wasn't for her, so she will be running with a dog for the foreseeable future – rain or shine.
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