Dogs can make the best companions. Perhaps one of the reasons you bought a dog as not only to be a companion or another member of the family, so to speak, but for someone to join you on walks so you could enjoy a healthier lifestyle and enjoy the beautiful countryside and local parks in Essex. Perhaps you also enjoy taking care of your dog and tasks you do for your dog are more of a pleasure than a chore. To enable you to walk and care for your dog to the best of your capabilities you need to keep fairly fit. I am a qualified Exercise and Nutrition Coach and here are my top pieces of advice to keep you fit for your dog for as long as possible. I hope you find it useful.
Fuel first – If you like to walk your dog first thing in the morning, perhaps before you leave for work, make sure you hydrate the body and have something to eat before you leave. Preferably eat within 30 minutes of rising from bed as your body has just fasted for 8 or more hours! Your blood sugar levels will probably be low and if you begin to move around a lot they will become depleted further which is likely to create higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and also increase fat storage and the risk of diabetes.
Heat can be deceiving – When we initially get out of a nice warm bed, and when the temperature of our surroundings is mild, we can wake up feeling warm. This feeling can remain as we pull on clothes and have a hot drink. Make sure you test or look at the weather forecast before you head outside the door. You need to make sure your muscles are nice and warm before you head out the door even if you know you will need to take up layers once you begin walking. This will reduce your risk of injury as you walk, hold your dog on a lead and pick up any mess!
Carry snacks – if your last meal or snack was more than 2 hours before a dog walk, carry a snack with you. I recommend dark chocolate, dried apricots, “Trek” or “Naked” raw pressed fruit and nut bars, wholegrain brown rice cakes oatcakes or Soya beans.
Core focus – As you begin your walk focus on tightening your pelvic floor or ‘wee’ muscles and then brace your core. To do this draw your abdominals about 1-2cm towards your spine and brace them so they feel as firm as able. As you do this visualise your deeper core muscles wrapping around and encompassing your spine. In time this will not only help your stomach muscles look and feel better but your spine will become stronger and your risk of suffering back pain will be decreased.
Feeding and cleaning – When you are bending down to clean up after and feed your dog try to bend your knees when you are in spaces that allow you to do so and keep your spine fairly neutral so that you are not allowing your chest to collapse and shoulders round or hunched.
Like a baby – if you ever have to lift or carry your dog from one place to another, squat down, as far as you are able, and take your dog towards the centre of the midline of your body. Make sure your spine is neutral and brace your core as described above. Keeping your core and pelvic floor braced, lift your dog and carry to the destination required. Make sure you reverse the process as you place your dog where he/she needs to be.
Small breeds – If you often find yourself carrying your dog because he/she is a small breed, vary which side you carry it as if you always carry it on one side your joints will become misaligned caused by tight muscles pulling on them.
Long walks – When completing walks that are an hour or longer, very fast paced or challenging eat a piece of fresh fruit or drink a pure fruit smoothie once you have finished. This will help replace lost muscle glycogen stores and aid recovery and repair.
Stretch it out – Have you ever seen your dog stretch? Well we need to stretch as well. Muscles that might become tight during walks are calf muscles, hamstrings and quads, glutes, hip-flexors and chest muscles if you have rounded shoulders.
No neglect so don’t forget – As active as caring for and walking your dog is, you still need to do upper body resistance training just like everyone else to maintain muscle mass, raise metabolic rate and maintain good posture with muscle balance, and joint, ligament and bone health. This is how we get the most out of our bodies and remain independent for as many years as our health allows. Free weights and/or resistance bands can be used for this and body weight and yoga exercises. Being taught by an exercise professional who is qualified in anatomy is advised to learn correct technique.
I hope you enjoy many many more happy and healthy years with your dog.