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5 Easy Ways To Lose Weight With Your Pet—So You Can Both Live Longer
We love our pets, and our pets love us. They also enrich our lives.
in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychologyfound pets pump up our self-esteem, soften the sting of social rejection, and generally boost our well-being.
They can also help us lose weight and stay in shape, says pet expert and trainer Travis Brorsen, host of Animal Planet’s new showMy Big Fat Pet Makeover, which premiers September 30.
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“Just like spending quality time with your friends or your kids makes you feel happier, spending time with a pet does that too,” he says. “If you can incorporate your pet [into your weight-loss program], you’ll build that relationship and your quality of life, and you’ll be more likely to enjoy and stay with your new routines.”
Your pet will benefit too: Roughly half of all pets in the United States are overweight or obese. And Brorsen says too many pet owners assume their dog or cat will take care of itself, and will eat or exercise as needed to stay in shape. But that’s not the case.
(Is your pet eating the right food?PreventionPremium takes a deep dive into the trendy—and often troubled—pet food industry.)
“Some animals can self-regulate, but they also follow our example,” he says. If you sit around all the time, your pets will too.
“A healthy pet will live two years longer than an unhealthy one—and for an animal’s lifespan, that’s huge,” he says. “If you love your pet, what’s the price of getting that extra two years?”
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Here, Brorsen offers five ways to incorporate your pal into your diet or exercise routines. Follow his advice, and you’ll find it easier (and more enjoyable) to stick with your new, healthier habits.
1. Walk (or run) with your pet.
Sure, this is an obvious way to drop pounds with your bud. But it’s still one of the best ways to get yourself and your pet off your seats and on your feet (and paws). “If you have a dog, three 20-minute walks a day is a good goal,” Brorsen says.
Experts say walking just 30 minutes a day can significantly lower your body fat percentage. And your dog gets just as much benefit from regular strolls around the neighborhood, Brorsen says. If you can both manage it, a run is great too. (Here are 8 crucial things runners over 50 do to stay pain-free.)
“People tell me their dog gets tired too quickly,” he adds. “But that’s OK—just drop your dog off when he gets worn out and keep going until you hit your goal.”
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Think of your daily walks as a nice break from the stresses of your day—from work or your email or your phone—and a time to bond with your pet. You’ll find they’re more enjoyable, and easier to stick with.
2. Play with your cat.
No, you probably can’t take your cat for a brisk walk. “But you can burn calories playing with it,” Brorsen says.
“Cats are natural hunters, and they love chasing birds or toys with feathers,” he says. “Get one and sling it around the room for your pet to chase."
Brorsen says “all movement matters” when you’re trying to stay in shape. And research backs him up on that. While vigorous exercise is great, taking even small breaks from long periods of sitting seems to help combat weight gain and metabolic disease. (Check out these 6 health benefits of adding just 1,000 steps per day.)
“When you play with your cat, it gets the cat moving and it gets you moving, which helps you both stay fit,” he adds.
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3. Switch to healthier "treats."
Most pet treats are the equivalent of chips or sugar-loaded energy bars, Brorsen says. Both you and your pet will benefit from a switch to healthier fare.
“A lot of fruits and vegetables are healthy for you and healthy for your pet,” he says. “Apples, strawberries, bananas, oranges, and sweet potatoes are some good ones.”
Start stocking your pantry and fridge with these good-for-you goodies, and consider breaking them out only after you and your pet have played or gone on one of your walks. (Looking for a convenient and healthy snack to stash in your desk drawer? Try these 14 best weight loss-friendly picks you can buy on Amazon.)
This blueberry parfait only tastes decadent:
4. Build more micro-workouts into your lifestyle.
For years, weight-loss experts have been telling us to park farther away from the store entrance, or to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Few of us do, which is a shame. These small tweaks can add up to thousands of extra steps each day, and can meaningfully contribute to weight loss and weight maintenance.
In the same way, building extra movement into your pet’s routines can help them stay healthy, Brorsen says.
“I tell cat owners to put the litter box and food dish at opposite ends of the house,” he says. “That makes your cat move back and forth to use them.”
MORE: 4 Ways To Save On Pet Costs
Likewise, keep your dog’s bed away from the window or storm door where she likes to sit and watch the world go by. Keep her water bowl in a third location, and she’ll be forced to move a bit more throughout the day.
5. Reconsider your portion sizes.
Study after study shows larger portion sizes—especially at restaurants—are partly to blame for America’s obesity epidemic. And just as super-sized portions can sabotage your diet goals, too-large helpings could be causing your pet to pack on pounds.
“If you look at the side of the pet food bag, you might see something like for a 3-10 pound animal, give a quarter of a cup,” Brorsen says. He compares that to serving the same portion to someone who weighs between 100 and 160 pounds. “That’s way too wide a range, and also assumes your animal is active.” (Here are 5 BMI myths you need to stop believing.)
He recommends gradually cutting down the portion sizes you serve both yourself and your pet. Buying smaller (and heavier) plates can help you cut down your portions at mealtimes. Likewise, serving your pet a little less food can make a big difference in the amount of weight he packs on.
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