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Need Help Getting Fit After 50? Adopt a Dog!

Woman walking dog

We all need to move our bodies every day. Period. Running, walking, spinning, biking, Zumba ... whatever your choice is, just get out and do it. You'll keep your weight down and maintain your health-check numbers where they need to be.  Plus, it just feels good. But sometimes we need that little extra reason to get us out there.

While writing " The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More," I was insisting that my readers had to, at the very least, walk 10,000 steps every day. Yet I wasn't even following my own advice, barely making it to 3,000 steps each day. Why? The same excuses most people have: too busy, too tired, will do it later, have a headache, writing a book. There I was, telling people what to do, and not doing it myself.

My daughters have been asking for a dog since they could speak. Every year, their birthday and holiday wish lists had "dog" at the top. My husband and I put the idea off for years (full disclosure: especially my husband). Yet one day about two years ago, hubby woke up and said, "I think we should have a dog." Huh? Was I not smack in the middle of writing a book? Could I possibly devote any time to training a puppy (which is what I had assumed he meant)? We all well know it's mom who is in charge of the new dog, no matter what the other family members may say. But, it was too late. His words hung in the air, the girls too stunned to talk, mouths open, eyes wide, disbelief written across their faces.

I agreed, of course, with one caveat: our dog would be adopted, not bought from a breeder or pet store, and not younger than 5 or 6 years old.

According to The Humane Society, there are six to eight million dogs and cats living in animal shelters in any given year, and that number continues to grow. Low adoption rates are one factor driving the high number of animals in shelters.   However, every year millions of dogs and cats are also relinquished by their owners or rescued from the streets by animal control officers and private citizens and brought to animal shelters. These circumstances leave shelters and rescue groups with a large number of animals in need of homes. Many of them are not easy to adopt, causing about three to four million of them to be euthanized each year. Of course, many of these animals that are abandoned are not yet neutered or spayed, allowing yet more animals to be born.

It took a few months, but finally, Gunther, a beautiful dog we adopted through the National Brittany Rescue Network, arrived in New York City from Michigan.

Barbara and Gunther June 2009

Gunther is a Brittany and this particular breed really needs to move. Living in an apartment building in Manhattan, I'm not about to let him "out the back door" to run around a few times a day (it's a pretty big drop from the 18th floor), so I am forced to get out and take him on long, intentional walks and runs. Gunther has been the number one biggest contributor to moving my body every day - rain, shine, sleet or snow.

Three times a week Gunther and I run (with walk breaks) for five or more miles through Central Park and the other days I take him on long, fast walks ... all of which have allowed me to surpass my goal of 10,000 steps every day (and lose and keep off those lingering post-menopausal 15 lbs.).

Gunther's vet suggested these tips for running (or walking for exercise) with your dog, especially in the warmer months:

  •             get the green light from your dog's vet
  •             always keep your dog on a leash
  •             get a special belt that holds small bottles of water and reserve half of them for your dog
  •             pay special attention to possible heat exhaustion: panting, slowing down, foaming at the mouth
  •             if your dog is over seven years old, consider taking your pet on long walks instead of runs

a couple playing with dog

Need some other reasons to rescue a dog? Consider these:

If you don't yet have a dog, but are thinking about it, please consider adopting one. Orlando Bloom, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock and J.K. Rowling are just a few of the many celebrities who have chosen to adopt, rather than buy, a dog. Now that we have Gunther, my only question is this: why did it take so long?

For more tips on living your best life after 50 (or 60, or 70 . . . ) check out "The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts' Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More" and Keep me posted on how you're doing by subscribing to me on Facebook and "tweeting" me on Twitter at @BGrufferman.  

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