Walking a Dog: It Helped Me Be More Active and Lose Weight

Walking a Dog – Helped to Lose Weight

Dear Dr. Mahler:

I am 79 years old and was hospitalized last month for a flare-up of COPD. Usually I have 1-2 episodes of bronchitis during the winter and need an antibiotic and prednisone. I usually get short of breath clearing snow off of my car and drying off my dog when he gets wet from rolling in the snow.

The reason that I am writing is to share my “secret” for losing weight.  I live alone in a trailer, but last May I got a dog for company and activity. He wants to go out at least 6 times a day, and I need to walk him with a lease. There isn’t enough space for him to run around in my small yard. To care for my dog, I walk several times a day, up to 20 min at a time. Although I had not planned on this, I have lost 18 pounds since last May. I feel so much better being more active and it is easier to breathe losing my belly fat. Please share my experience walking a dog with your readers.

Sally from Bennington, VT

Dear Sally,

Many thanks for you note. Congrats on losing 18 pounds and make sure to give your dog a treat for helping you lose weight.

Woman walking a dog

Woman walking her dog

Here is some information about walking a dog and health benefits. In general, dog owners get twice as much exercise as those who do not have a dog. One survey reported that on average dog owners walked with their dog 24 minutes twice a day which adds up to 5 hours and 36 minutes a week. Studies show that those who walk their dog have the following health benefits:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased mental attitude and sharpness
  • A lower risk of heart disease

The amount of exercise required for your dog will vary depending upon their breed and energy. Your dog can be a great incentive to get outside.

Here are some suggestions for those who have dogs. Set a daily routine with your dog. Try to walk at the same time each day. Also, find a dog park for fun and variety.

Sally – thanks again for your email. Hopefully, your experience will help others have a new friend and find a way to lose weight.

Best wishes,

Donald A. Mahler, M.D.


Obesity and Worse Outcomes in COPD: More Shortness of Breath

In COPD, A Link between Obesity and Worse Outcomes (more shortness of breath, poor Quality of Life, and reduced walking distance)

Background: Although obesity is common in the United States (see post on January 1, 2017 under COPD News), the association between obesity and worse outcomes in those with COPD  is unclear.

Study: Dr. Allison Lambert, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and colleagues analyzed information on 3,631 participants in the COPDGene study. A body mass index of 30 or higher was used to define obesity. The findings were published in the January 2017 issue of the journal CHEST (volume 151; pages 68-77).

Obesity and worse outcomes regardless of shape

Two common types of obesity – apple and pear shapes

Findings: Overall, 35% of participants in the study were obese – which is identical to the general population in the United States.  Increasing obesity was associated with worse quality of life, reduced distance walked in six minutes, more shortness of breath, and greater odds of a severe exacerbation (sudden worsening) of COPD. 

Conclusions: The authors concluded that obesity is common among individuals with COPD and is associated with worse outcomes. These include more shortness of breath with activities, poor quality of life, shorter distance walked in six minutes, and more frequent severe exacerbations.

Obese adults walking

My Comments: If you have COPD and are obese, I strongly encourage you to lose weight. Certainly, losing weight is hard work especially with food being a focus of celebrations including birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, etc. Studies show that the most effective way to lose weight is a combination of

Seniors participating in physical activity such as walking, biking, and swimming

Seniors Exercising

eating fewer calories and an exercise program. Regular exercise can burn some calories, but its major effect with weight loss is to increase the metabolic rate (which burns more calories throughout the day). Participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program is a great way to start an exercise routine. Talking to a nutritionist may help you select healthy and low calorie foods.

Exercise Lowers Risk of Lung Cancer by 20%

Exercise Reduces Risk of Any Cancer including Lung Cancer

Anyone who has COPD due to cigarette smoking has an increased risk for lung cancer. However, there is good news from a recent report from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Steven Moore, a cancer epidemiologist, analyzed 12 studies that involved 1.4 million people who reported on their physical activity levels over a period of 11 years. Dr. Moore matched these peoples’ exercise records with whether they developed 26 different types of cancer.

Woman exercising on treadmill

Woman exercising on treadmill

Overall, people who exercise more saw a 7% lower risk of developing any type of cancer than people who exercised less. But the reduced risk was especially striking for 13 types of cancers. People who were more active had on average a 20% lower risk of cancers of the esophagus, lung, kidney, stomach, endometrium and others compared with people who were less active.


The relationship between physical activity and lower cancer risk remained after adjusting for body weight (body mass index or BMI), diet, and whether or not people smoked.

Physical Activity includes Water Aerobics

Seniors doing Water Aerobics

The reason for the benefits of exercise in lowering the risk of these cancers isn’t clear. It is possible that physical activity can shift insulin and inflammation to more beneficial levels that don’t promote cancer formation.

The study was published online in JAMA Internal Medicine May 16, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548


Physical Activity Reduces Risk of Death in COPD

150 Minutes or More of Physical Activity per Week Lowers Risk of Death by 47% in the Year Following Hospitalization

Study: Dr. Nguyen analyzed the risk of dying among those with COPD who were hospitalized for a worsening of breathing symptoms (called an exacerbation). The study included 2,370 individuals (55% were female; average age = 73 years) hospitalized at one of 14 hospitals in the Kaiser Permanente Southern California health system.  Patients were hospitalized between January 1, 2011, to December 31, 2011. 

Each person provided an estimate of physical activity in minutes of moderate to vigorous activity. Patients were then categorized as: Inactive – 0 minutes per week; Insufficiency Active – 1 – 149 minutes per week;  Active – 150 or more minutes per week                                                                                                                                                                            

Seniors participating in physical activity such as walking, biking, and swimming

Seniors Exercising

Results: The study was published online in the European Respiratory Journal Open Research on  March 16, 2016.

♦ 73% were inactive; 17% were insufficiently active; and 10% were active. There were a total of 464 deaths (20%) in the year following hospitalization.

♦ Those who were active had a 47% lower risk of death in the 12 months compared with inactive patients.

♦ Other lifestyle factors such as active cigarette smoking, failure to participate in pulmonary rehabilitation, and poor nutrition also predicted the risk of death.

My Comments:  It may take weeks to a few months for some to recover from a flare-up of COPD that is severe enough to require hospitalization. However, once you are feeling better, it is important to gradually increase activities to regain fitness. 

The good news of this study is that those who pursue an active life style that includes 150 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity have a reduced risk of dying.  This translates into 30 minutes five times a week and allows for 2 days a week for rest and recovery.

Physical Activity includes Water Aerobics

Seniors doing Water Aerobics

Moderate to vigorous activities may include brisk walking, riding a stationary cycle, water exercises, and any other things that you like to do. Doing different activities provides variety.


For many, participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program is the best way to achieve the target of 150 minutes of activity each week.