Today’s guest blogger is Krista Wickens – an athlete, lifestyle fitness advocate, author, speaker, inventor, and co-founder and CEO of PetZen Products, a manufacturing and design company dedicated to designing canine fitness products. She has super interesting things to say about dogs and exercise.
Exercise: The Best Drug In the World, And Its Free
by Krista Wickens, DogTread Canine Fitness
Yes, I know exercise does not come in the form of a pill. But, if it did, wow… think of how many people would buy it?
Fortunately, for all of us the best drug in the world is FREE! Anyone, or any dog, can have it at any time – you just need to commit to the time to move. So I wonder what would happen if we started thinking of exercise as a pill? One that we take everyday like our life depends on it.
Most dog owners know that exercise is the best way to prevent unwanted obesity, and it promotes stronger bones, body and physical appearance. And…we also know that exercise helps us feel better – both humans and dogs. We are learning that it increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine – the same neurotransmitters that control thoughts and emotions.
Unfortunately, despite the awareness of exercise benefits, as a culture we seem to have a hard time swallowing the exercise pill.
Over 50% of dogs and 60% of humans do not get the exercise they need – they are classified as obese or overweight. Worse yet, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) more than 54% of dogs are left home indoors every day. That is over 40 million dogs that spend an average of 8-10 hours sitting, resting…not exercising.
But it doesn’t stop there. Humans also assume the “sit” position for up to 6-8+ hours a day. For two species that were designed to move, the results are devastating and often life-threatening.
Wouldn’t a life-saving pill be worth it?
A pill with side effects that include: better productivity, weight loss, euphoria, better bonding skills, focus, decreased risk of life threatening diseases and worst of all – WARNING – your chance of living longer can be increased by several years or more!
Inactivity Creates Toxic Stress Sludge
What else do we risk when we avoid the exercise pill?………What many don’t know, and only recently discovered is that inactivity is like opening the flood gates for toxic levels of stress to devour your brain. According to new research by Harvard Medical Professor John Ratey, lack of exercise leads to “eroded connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain”. So sitting hours in your chair, pounding away at the computer, only causes your brain to lose strength. When your brain loses strength, chronic levels of depression settle in that tell you to stay put. You don’t think clearly, it is harder to get projects done, goals become impossible. Basically, your desire to move is slayed.
Furthermore, (I am paraphrasing) according to Dr. Ratey, “Most people don’t know that exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that actually REVERSE the brain eroding process”. Halleluiah, there is hope for improvement! Yes, that means you can get smarter with exercise. Dr. Ratey’s research points to several case studies that prove exercise leads to better test scores at school, better work performance; and for me personally I have seen training and focus improve over and over again with dogs that are exercised vs. those that are not.
So what does this all mean? Well, exercise – the kind that elevates the heart rate (not your grandma’s rose garden walk) that is performed with intensity, regularity , and increases oxygen consumption actually bolsters the brain’s infrastructure. In fact, the brain responds just like your skeletal muscles. It grows with activity and dies without it. Makes Sense…
The Best Drug in the World – And It’s FREE
In October of 2000 researchers from Duke University were published in the New York Times with a study showing that exercise is better than Zoloft at treating depression. Wow – do you remember reading that? I don’t.
Although the research for this study is directed towards the human species, I think it is safe to say that we can deduce that a dog’s brain too will grow with exercise…and it can shrink without it.
Personally, I think that inactivity is the most common thread binding dogs found in shelters. The ASPCA reports that some of the more common behavior problems seen in dogs are:
- Investigative behaviors, like garbage raiding
- Destructive chewing, digging or scratching
- Hyperactivity, excitability and night-time activity
- Unruliness, knocking over furniture and jumping up on people
- Excessive predatory and social play
- Play biting and rough play
- Attention-getting behaviors like barking and whining.
It is hard not to assume that many of these behavior challenges, at least in part, may be the result of eroded brain cells and neuro-connections caused by the lack of exercise. The good news – dogs can have a fresh start – exercise can help create better AND healthier dogs. Admittedly not all challenges can be simply solved with exercise, but exercise has the endorsement from many in the research community as being a very decent start.
The reality is that we really haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to all the great things that exercise provides, but Dr. Ratey’s studies are a start. To delve further into the mind body connection, check out SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, M.D. It is a great read, and who knows, it may SPARK some new thoughts and research of your own.
About the Author: Krista Wickens is an athlete, lifestyle fitness advocate, author, speaker, inventor, and co-founder and CEO of PetZen Products, a manufacturing and design company dedicated to designing canine fitness products and programs under the DogTread brand. She is also the co-author and producer of the first Treading for Dogs DVD and 30-day Dog Treadmill Training Program. As a former fitness product manager, Krista created best-selling products and programs used by some of the biggest names in Human Fitness, including iconic brands like Reebok, Gold’s Gym and NordicTrack. Krista’s love and understanding of animals, particularly dogs, started on a Montana Cattle Ranch where she was raised. She trained her first dog, Bear, at the age of 7. Her unique understanding of the mechanics of fitness and canine experiences have led her on a mission dedicated to helping develop healthy and beneficial relationships for dogs and their humans.