Clarise Lim regularly walks her four-year-old pit bull Connor in Gorge Park. The Saanich resident is studying the exercise relationship between dogs and owners.

Saanich researcher studying health benefits dogs can have on humans

Clarise Lim researching the relationship dogs and people have with each there around exercise

As soon as Connor sees the trees of Gorge Park, he’s pulling at the leash wrapped around the gloved right hand of Clarise Lim.

And it’s a hardy pull, as the four-year-old pit bull rescue is more than 70 pounds of friendly, bouncing fun.

The Gorge-Tillicum residents make the trek through Gorge Park often, as Connor regularly joins Lim on her 10-kilometre runs. What Connor doesn’t realize, at least we assume, is that he’s the  ongoing inspiration for Lim’s research into the relationship between dog walking behaviours and the owners’ sense of responsibility and attachment with dogs.

Lim is a graduate student in kinesiology working in the University of Victoria’s Behavioural Medicine Lab and she’s already published a study on the matter.

“Some of the benefits you can’t even measure, such as the behaviour effect that exercise brings to dogs,” Lim said.  “And some of the benefits it brings people are also hard to measure.”

Lim has worked as a fitness instructor for 17 years and is passionate about expanding the quality and quantity of exercise people get.

She decided to throw a bone into exercise research by studying human and K9 participants alike after people commended her for running with her dog. Initially she didn’t see anything special about running with Connor. They would do as much as 21 kilometres before a back injury slowed her down. She’s healthy now, and believes the level of physical and emotional health she had going into the injury was a major factor for her recovery.

“It’s beyond physical, I had to deal with my father’s passing too, and I think there was an added emotional level of health [from exercising with Connor] that helped me deal with the stress of losing a family member,” Lim said.

Some of the findings in Lim’s study, based on 228 dog owners, aren’t surprising. Dog owners who value and enjoy dog-walking engaged in more of it, and larger and higher energy dogs resulted in higher levels of walking.

Some is intriguing, however. There are dog owners who walk the dog out of guilt, which could add stress into the human-dog relationship, where usually it’s the opposite.

Most of all, there is a shocking number of Canadian dog owners who rarely, if ever, will take the animal for a walk.

“Worldwide the ratio of dog owners who do not engage in regular exercise with their dogs is about 50 per cent, and we find that is relative in most Canadian cities [including Greater Victoria].”

At the heart of the study is a motivation to see if dogs can help people reach the World Health Organization’s recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.

Sixty per cent of participants Lim surveyed walk their dogs at intensities and amounts sufficient to reap the health benefits for themselves, her study says. Hence, Lim is studying the effectiveness of using a dog as a catalyst to bring the health benefits of exercise to the owner.

With the first round of research complete, Lim is now onto a second stage. She is seeking volunteer dog owners who aren’t currently meeting recommended physical activity guidelines, to participate in a nine-week study starting this month.

“Not everyone has to run with their dog, there’s lots of activities,” Lim said. Hiking, swimming and cycling (with an attachment) can all lead to added exercise.

The next phase of Lim’s study will investigate the use of behavioural and self-regulation strategies such as making plans, using cues to form habits, and attending scheduled group walks, to achieve positive physical activity outcomes.

Interested dog owners may contact Lim at k9bmed@uvic.ca.

 

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