Getting fit with your pet: It’s time to ‘Step It Up!’

Individuals from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and others participated in the walk.

Individuals from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, and others participated in the walk.

It’s not every day that we get to bring our dogs to work, but last Friday, Dr. Elise Ackley and I were proud to bring in our four-legged canines, Bula and Voodoo, to support a good cause.

We participated in a one-mile walk around the nation’s capital to raise awareness about Step It Up!, a new initiative launched by the Surgeon General to promote walking and more walkable communities for Americans. With more than one-third of adults over the age of 20 suffering from obesity, which contributes to a high risk of developing a chronic disease such as heart disease or diabetes, the call to action urges people to be more physically active to improve their health and reduce their chances of becoming disabled or dying prematurely.

In the veterinary profession, we’ve also seen that America’s pets are not immune to the ever-expanding waistline, leading to many of the same chronic diseases. That’s why the AVMA endorsed the Surgeon General’s new initiative last month. Not only will walking the family dog promote good physical and mental health for the pet and its owner, but it will also help strengthen the human-animal bond.

AVMA staff Victoria Broehm (left) and Dr. Elise Ackley, with dogs Bula and Voodoo, respectively.

AVMA staff Victoria Broehm (left) and Dr. Elise Ackley, with dogs Bula and Voodoo, respectively.

I couldn’t have been more excited to participate in this initiative because I know firsthand the positive impact that walking my dog has had on my own health. Unfortunately, due to hereditary factors, I have suffered from high cholesterol since a young age, but then last year, my husband and I adopted Bula, a collie-shepherd mix, and her puppy energy got me grabbing the leash and lacing up my tennis shoes for a daily 45-60 minute walk. Needless to say, at the end of the year, I was surprised to find my cholesterol had dropped under 200 for probably the first time in 20+ years. I knew right away that walking my dog, coupled with eating right, had really made the difference.

Not only did walking the dog improve my health, but it also gave my husband and I more time to explore our neighborhood and discover the many parks and walking trails nearby. We also ended up meeting a lot of our neighbors and discovering new restaurants and stores in the area. Now, we try to do a long family walk weekly where we hit the pavement and see where the sidewalk takes us.

Unlike where I live in Arlington, Va., however, many areas of the country still lack safe and convenient places to walk and roll wheelchairs. That is why the Surgeon General’s initiative is so important. It calls on communities to think about walkability when designing and enhancing their neighborhoods. Its good not only for the health and safety of those who live nearby and their pets, but it can also attract businesses and reduce air pollution, among many other social and economic benefits.

Let’s all do our part to support this new initiative by telling clients, friends, neighbors, and loved ones to strap on their pedometers and get out there to walk their pets! Learn more related to exercising with petsdisease precautions for dog walkerstips on obesity in pets, and pet care on our website.

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