Paws for Breath: How Four-Legged Friends Can Help Improve Our Fitness

Stuart SmithNews

We’ve all been there: the days when the allure of the Netflix binge is too strong to resist; when a cosy day wrapped in a duvet wins out over venturing outside.

While the draw of staying inside can sometimes be overwhelming, it’s vital to remember just how important it is to get up off the sofa and exercise. It is recommended that young people aged five to 18 should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day, while adults should aim for 150 minutes across a week.

This is one of the messages that will be spread to primary school pupils and their families when the Smarter Travel Roadshow – which promotes eco-friendly and healthy ways of getting to school – takes place across Aberdeenshire during the next few weeks.

While this may seem like a daunting target to meet, there are simple changes to your lifestyle that can help you achieve your goals… some of which come with four legs and a wagging tail.

Graeme Innes, centre manager at the Scottish SPCA’s Aberdeenshire Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre, will be attending a number of the Smarter Travel Roadshow events to tell attendees just how man’s best friend can help them meet their exercise needs.

He said: “Owning a dog keeps you active. Different dogs require different amounts of exercise, but they’ll all get you up out of your chair and get you outdoors.

“I’ve got a springer spaniel, and he’s constantly on the go. I used to be in the army and played a lot of sport, but as I’ve got a bit older my knees and ankles won’t let me play football and rugby as much as I’d like. So most of my fitness and exercise is now with the dog, and on my days off we’ll head away into the hills for a long walk.”

Cllr Gillian Owen, Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee chair, said: “Walking your four legged friend is not only great exercise but could be a really innovative way of making the school run that bit more fun. So why not give the car a rest and instead take your dog out for a well-deserved walk when going to and from school?

“Over the next few weeks the Smarter Travel Roadshows will give parents and young people plenty of hints and tips on using greener travel methods when completing the school run. Look out for a Smarter Travel Roadshow at a school near you.”

Losing those extra inches from the waistband isn’t the be-all and end-all of dog ownership, though. As technology becomes more ingrained in our society, the need to get outside is more pressing than ever – in 2015 it was estimated that young people spend an average 144 minutes a day in front of a screen, a number which continues to rise. By encouraging children to get outside – and to spend time together with friends or as a family – it can improve their general wellbeing and help to reduce stress.

Graeme said: “My youngest son is 14 and it can be difficult to drag him away from his computer. But every day, when he gets home from school, he takes the dog out for a walk – and for 40 minutes or so he’s getting fresh air and exercise outside. Now more than ever, when everything is becoming computerised, it’s important to introduce children to the great outdoors, and having a dog is a fantastic way to do that and to spend time together outside as a family.”

So what are the next steps? How do you find a new four-legged companion to join your family?

Graeme explained: “If you adopt a dog from the Scottish SPCA, you’re giving that animal a vital second chance.

“All the dogs and animals in our care end up here for a reason. Some of them are mistreated and abused, but there is a massive spectrum of reasons why we take on these animals: relationships break down, people move into rented accommodation where landlords do not allow pets, owners pass away or go into hospital.

“No matter their background, it’s important that these dogs – and other animals – get another chance. Our staff work very hard to get to know each animal that comes in, building a bond with them during their rehabilitation, and so they are on hand to help you choose the perfect pet to take home.

“Every dog has a full health check from a vet before leaving with their new family, and is vaccinated, deflead and dewormed, and microchipped. We also offer four weeks’ free pet insurance.”

The Smarter Travel Roadshow will visit five Aberdeenshire primary schools in Fraserburgh, Huntly, Inverurie, Ellon and Portlethen in November to tell pupils and their families about simple changes they can make to their school run to help the environment and increase their weekly healthy activity. Graeme Innes will visit a number of the roadshows with some of the Scottish SPCA’s four-legged friends in tow, joining the likes of ARR Craib, Nestrans, Stagecoach and Police Scotland.

For more information, follow the Smarter Travel Roadshow on Facebook at or on Twitter @TSaberdeenshire