Running with your Dog. Keeping your Mind Sharp
Pardon the humor, although there is a lot of truth to the above. The fact is that my dogs (all of them that I have ever had) and I love to run and for that matter, exercise intensely. The feeling that I get, and that I believe my dogs get during and after a run or hard workout is amazing. For ‘a-holics’ like us, this feeling is enough to keep us exercising on a regular basis. For many (if not most) others, this feeling is elusive or not enough to keep them on a regular schedule.
I thought that it would be worthwhile to begin a series on the many benefits of running focusing on one benefit at a time. The hope is that I can influence some people to give running a try. Luckily, the benefits that are associated with running will also apply to virtually any type of vigorous exercise, so even if you and your dog are unable to run, there are still plenty of options available for you and your pet.
Running with Your Dog for Mental Sharpness
The first benefit of running is one that most people overlook. It turns out that running, and other intense forms of aerobic exercise, can strengthen the brain and combat metal decline as we get older. Research has shown that exercise can improve mental function in aging humans and it is very likely that the same will hold true for dogs.
In “Benefits of regular aerobic exercise for executive functioning in healthy populations”, by Hayley Guiney & Liana Machado, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (Dec, 2012), the authors reviewed prior research to conclude that in older generations, the evidence for improvement in cognitive function with exercise is extensive. Specifically, this study focused on aerobic exercise and its effect on longer term improvements in mental function, across different age groups.
This study points out the numerous studies showing how aerobic exercise can improve the brain’s structure and overall mechanical function. The authors also review studies linking aerobic exercise to improved cognitive function (also known as executive function). In particular, the study focuses on specific types of cognitive functions:
- Task switching- responding to different stimuli. For example, if the target digit is green, indicate whether the digit is greater or less than 5; if the target digit is red, indicate whether the digit is even or odd.
- Selective attention and inhibitory control- an example of which is called the Stroop test which involves asking participants to indicate the color of the ink that a word appears in by either saying it aloud or pressing a specific button.
- Working memory- tasks involve holding information in mind for a short period of time and rapidly updating that information in order to respond correctly.
The study authors overwhelmingly conclude that regular aerobic exercise can improve all of the above cognitive functions for aging adults. (They also note a relative lack of similar research on children.)
There was also evidence to indicate that aerobic fitness predicts better working memory.
Keeping your Dog’s Brain Fit through Exercise
While the research reviewed in this study focused on humans, I would expect that similar benefits would accrue to the canine athlete as well. Older dogs can suffer many similar brain ailments as humans do including dementia. According to petMD.com, clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome are found in 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11, and by the age of 15, 68 percent of dogs display at least one sign. Thus, it would seem logical that intense aerobic exercise can help your dog retain their mental faculties and function as they age and forestall if not eliminate the onset of cognitive disorders.
So what are you waiting for? Hurry up and get outside and run with your dog. Before you both forget ;-).
References and Further ReadingPlease enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts To Dog with Love and My GBGV Life. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below - lots of fun fitness tips and advice!