Taking your dog for a walk makes your pet do a happy dance - and sets off a cascade of lasting health benefits for you, too.
Dog owners in a recent study who didn't take their four-legged friends on regular outings were 58 percent more likely to tip the scales too high for their health and nearly twice as likely to have high blood pressure as dog owners who took Spot for a daily stroll.
And compared with regular dog walkers, people who didn't own a furry companion were:
* about twice as likely to smoke
* about twice as likely to have high cholesterol and depression
* about three times more likely to have diabetes
Another bonus of caring for a canine: All dog owners had stronger social-support networks - a proven stress reducer and health enhancer - than nonowners.
Getting the most from your relationship with your dog doesn't take much time. Dog-walkers in this study were active for about 30 extra minutes a day - a small investment in leash time that pays big dividends. Turns out, hoofing it with Trixie or Jasper can speed your walking pace 28 percent, improve your balance, lower stress and even reduce the number of visits you make to the doctor.
The moral to this shaggy dog story? If you're among the 40 percent of American households that have at least one dog, tie up your sneakers, get out the leash and hit the sidewalk. If you don't have a pup, get out there, anyway; you might meet some nice doggies along the way.