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All right, it’s time for the annual New Year’s resolution post.

I’m keeping mine extremely simple this year: Walk more. I’m going to avoid setting any particular goals that I will inevitably fall short of and feel guilty about. I am just rearranging my schedule a bit and putting an emphasis on walking in my free time.

You may be wondering what this has to do with being a veterinarian or animal caretaker. In my case, it’s all intimately tied together.

First of all, when I go for one of my walks, my dog comes with me. I like to walk at a very brisk pace for an hour or more, so he gets a lot of exercise on these outings too. I can usually swing by a nearby open space to let him run off leash for awhile as I make my way back and forth across the field. He runs like a maniac through the grass or snow and is much better behaved on leash afterward.

The health benefits of walking are undisputed. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking can help you:

  • Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol)
  • Raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Reduce your risk of, or manage type 2 diabetes
  • Manage your weight
  • Improve your mood
  • Stay strong and fit

Walking is also an excellent way to maintain a dog’s health. In fact, a new book just came out on how walking a dog is valuable for both the people and pets involved in the activity. It’s called The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for Pets & People: Evidence and Case Studies, edited by Rebecca Johnson, Alan Beck, and Sandra McCune. Check it out if you have any doubts as to the physical and social upsides of going for a walk with a dog.

Don’t have a dog? Taking your cat, ferret, chinchilla … whatever, for a walk in a pet stroller would surely have similar benefits.

Being a veterinarian and/or caring for animals can be physically and emotionally demanding. I know it seems counterintuitive, but after a tough day, it’s usually best to ignore the temptation to crash on the couch and get outside for some exercise instead. In a pinch, indoor exercise will do, but there is something special about being outdoors that puts everything in perspective.

So that’s my resolution. I’d love to hear yours. If you don’t have one, feel free to borrow mine. Maybe I’ll see you on the trails.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Brian Goodman / via Shutterstock

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