Make a Fitness Date: You and Your Dog

Sometimes, you just gotta face the fat. Fact is, fat's a human problem and, thanks to humans, weight gain's a growing issue with our canine companions.

About two-thirds of the adult population in the United States is overweight or obese. Nearly one-half of our precious pet dogs tip the scales, too, with excess weight that can cause health concerns or cut short an animal's life span. We seem to be feeding ourselves — and our dogs — more than enough, while we slack on physical activity.

People and their four-legged friends can shape up by exercising together. After all, what's more inviting and invigorating to Fido than a brisk walk? You'll both be out in the open air, where you can share the joys of working your muscles — and he can doggedly pursue a hodgepodge of new scents along the way.

Your dog is a perfect exercise partner not only because he's already your best friend, but also because he's eager, reliable, and always appreciative. He'll never stand you up when one of his buddies calls with a better offer; he won't care if you look silly in your jogging shorts; and he'll distract the attention from you with his perpetual cuteness.

Take a stroll around your block, and you'll probably cross paths with some interesting old acquaintances. You might pick up some new insights into your neighborhood, or you could meet neighbors you never knew you had . . . all the while you and your pet are getting a good walking workout.

The speed and duration of your exercise routine with your dog depends on what each of you can safely handle. As you start out, limit your walks to two blocks for every ten pounds of doggy body weight. You can bump up the distance by five to ten percent weekly, heading out for one long session or splitting your walk into morning and evening meanders.

If your dog gets overheated or hurt, he'll let you know — as long as you're paying attention. A tired pooch slows up, stops altogether, or heads for a shady place. You may see spit hanging off his mouth as he pants; extreme salivation is a sure sign it's time to rest. If you're going for a long walk, carry a collapsible water bowl for your pup's refreshment.

For safety sake, carry a walking stick of some sort, even if you're traveling in a familiar location. Millions of dog bites are reported to local authorities each year in the U.S.  A walking stick can serve as a barrier between you (or your leashed dog) and an attacking dog's mouth.

Obesity in this country costs over $117 billion each year in direct (medical care) and indirect (lost wages) costs. That's billion, as in one thousand million. One hundred seventeen billion dollars could make millionaires of 117,000 people — the entire population of Flint, Michigan!

As you weigh your options for personal fitness, consider pounding the pavement with your pet pooch. You'll be letting your health go to the dogs — in a good way!