I started jogging in 1975. My grandmother told me it was unladylike; my mother was certain it would ruin my knees. Thirty-five years later, I’m still running regularly and my knees are fine. I love it when science finally confirms what I’ve sensed all along, and also proves my mother wrong.
I believe that science about humans can often be extended to our canine companions. If jogging is good for us, it’s probably also good for dogs – with the usual cautions. I have had one or more canine running companion since getting my first Alaskan Malamute in 1985. She lived to be fourteen. My two current Malamutes Maia, 13 and Meadow, 11, are now “retired” from running, but they both ran until they were about nine years old, and still enjoy daily walks and are in excellent health. My current canine running companion is an exuberant four year old rescued Aussie.
A recent study out of Denmark makes a very convincing case that even moderate amounts of regular jogging improve and extend our lives. What’s impressive about this study is that it started in 1976; approximately 20,000 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 93 have been followed since that time, reporting their levels of activity, including jogging, as well as other factors related to cardio health and longevity.
At a 35 year follow-up, there were 10,158 deaths among non-joggers and only 122 among joggers. Jogging reduced the risk of death by 44% for both men and women. Jogging extended life expectancy 6.2 years in men and 5.6 years in women. An investment of one to two and a half hours per week, spread over two or three sessions, provided the most benefit, according to researcher Peter Schnohr, chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study .
Wow! Jog to live longer. So elegantly simple. And you get to enjoy runner’s high as a bonus!
Learning about the benefits of regular jogging from my own experience, I try to apply the same lessons to my dogs’ lives. From Schnohr’s study and others like it, we know that jogging improves our oxygen uptake, improves lipid profiles (raising HDL and lowering triglycerides), lowers blood pressure, improves cardiac function, bone density, immune function, reduces inflammation markers, prevents obesity, and improves psychological function.
Why wouldn’t this also be true for dogs? I’m convinced it is. I once made a guesstimate of the miles my Malamutes ran with me before I started noticing the signs that it was time to retire them to a walking regimen. The number surprised even me: 10,000 miles.* Observing the joy on my dogs’ faces when they run and their overall excellent health throughout their lives is my proof that running is beneficial for dogs. My vet is pleased that both of my Malamutes are lean in their old age, which benefits their joints. It’s a result of a lifetime of exercise. And we all know that “a tired dog is a good dog.” My regular runs with my Aussie mellow him right out.
Some people focus their efforts on making sure their dogs eat an optimal diet. That’s great, but if you forget the exercise component, you’re missing the chance to further extend your canine companion’s life and sense of wellbeing. Good diet alone isn’t enough. Humans and canines are designed to move. If your dog isn’t a good candidate for even an easy jogging routine, at least get her outside walking briskly and romping playfully every day. Regular weight-bearing movement in the key.
What about my mother’s long-ago warning that I’d ruin my knees by jogging? More to the point here, what about concerns that running will cause knee injuries in dogs?
Lauren Cox, MyHealthNewsDaily.com  Contributor, asked several experts whether jogging causes arthritis in human knees. “That’s an old wives tale,” says Dr. Lewis Maharam, fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Your parents decide if you're going to have arthritis or not — it's genetic. Jogging, or running, itself will not cause the arthritis.”
Dr. Michelle Wolcott, Associate Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine adds that if you’ve never had a broken bone or ligament injury that would predispose you to arthritis, then the chances that jogging will cause arthritis in the knee are minimal. “We know that weight-bearing exercise, such as running, helps prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Repetitive weight bearing and motion are good for the joints, and running essentially does that,” she says. “If you are not predisposed to osteoarthritis, and have healthy knees and are of healthy weight, then running doesn't affect your risk for knee arthritis. That's a huge misconception and one that I fight all the time.”
Again: If it’s true for humans – that jogging doesn’t damage healthy knees—then I bet it’s also true for canines. In fact, I believe that my dogs’ knees are better off running than doing activities like jumping to catch a Frisbee or chasing a ball with short bursts of speed. A lifetime of weight-bearing exercise allows for strong joints late in life.
In sum: What better excuse to get yourself out the door and jogging through the neighborhood than taking your dog on the same journey with you to a longer, healthier life? I have yet to meet a dog who won’t enthusiastically lead you out the door at the start of your jog, no matter the weather or time of day. It’s never too late to start. Just be sure to consult your medical and veterinary caregivers, start easy and build from there. Have fun with it. Motivate yourself by training for a local dog-friendly event, like Seattle’s Furry 5K, a run/walk that encourages bringing your dog. Your dog will thank you. You’ll both live longer and be better able to enjoy those bonus years.
*For skeptics, I calculated that number as follows: 8 years x 25/mls per week average x 50 weeks/year = 10,000 miles, a low estimate based on my own running logs. Many weeks we ran more miles, a few weeks we ran less. I suspect the real number is at least 10-20% higher.
Seattle Furry 5K: http://www.furry5k.com/