(ARA) - Obesity rates are dramatically higher than a decade ago. Twelve states now have obesity rates of 30 percent or higher, according to a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. With obesity a serious health threat, many families are on the lookout for ways to increase their physical activity levels. For families who own a dog, one helpful answer may be as close as their favorite furry friend. Walking and exercising with the family dog is an easy way to get moving, spend quality time together and get to know your neighbors.

"The simple act of taking daily walks with your dog provides great benefits for people, pets and communities," says Dr. Sandra McCune, research manager for the Human-Animal Interaction Research Program at The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition and co-editor of the newly released book "The Health Benefits of Dog Walking for People & Pets: Evidence and Case Studies." "Studies show walking can lower the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and may help combat obesity in both humans and pets. Walking a dog has also been shown to increase interaction among neighbors, fostering social cohesion. These are real, tangible benefits to having a pet."

Dogs are effective motivators to get their owners moving, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the Petcare segment at Mars Inc., which includes such well-known pet brands such as Pedigree, Whiskas, Nutro, Royal Canin and Banfield. The survey found that nearly two-thirds of dog owners engage in exercise on a weekly basis because of their dog and that 29 percent of dog owners who engage in regular exercise other than walking do so because of their dog. The survey also found that dogs are the driving force behind two-thirds of the walks their owners take each week.

Walking with your dog is one of the most basic and accessible forms of exercise for you and your pet. It's a low-cost, low-impact way for people to meet and sustain recommended levels of physical activity - a key driver of health. And it's not just humans who benefit from getting out and about - an estimated 54 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. are also overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. Regular walks are an important part of keeping your dog healthy.

To spread the word about the benefits of regularly walking your dog, Mars Petcare's The Power of Pets program is focusing its 2011 campaign on promoting dog walking as a gateway to increased physical activity. Launched in 2010 in partnership with local YMCAs in cities across the United States, The Power of Pets helps raise awareness about the health benefits of pet ownership. This community-focused initiative explores, celebrates and communicates the relationship between humans and pets, and the impact it can have on fostering healthier people and communities. For additional tips and information visit The Power of Pets at facebook.com/powerofpets.

To help you get moving and take advantage of the all that the season has to offer with your dog, consider these tips:

* While you don't need a lot of expensive equipment to walk with your dog, make sure you have a comfortable harness and leash, and that your dog is trained to walk by your side.

* Before you set off on a walk or run, check the weather - heat stroke can be dangerous for you and your dog. Check that the pavement is not too hot for your dog's paws and that you and your dog are well hydrated.

* If you and your pet are ready to bring your workout to the next level, take your dog on a run with hills or vary your speed to help increase your workout.

* Only run with breeds who can handle it. Many breeds are not meant to run for extended periods of time. If you're looking for other ways to exercise with your dog, play a game like tag or Frisbee.

Before beginning any exercise routine, remember to always check with your doctor and your veterinarian. Then, get up, get out and get you, your family and your dog moving.Dogs encourage owners to get up, get out and get moving
Category: Pets