Getting Back on Track Before Going Back to the Gym

pexels-photo-374101.jpegLast year was a tough year for me personally, and unfortunately, I went off track a bit when it came to exercising. I really didn’t take care of myself. While I hadn’t packed on too many pounds, I just didn’t feel right. I felt achy and lethargic, and somehow my muscles disappeared! It was time to buckle down.

Since I hadn’t been to the gym in a while, I didn’t want to overdo it by going into overdrive the first day back—something I’ve been known to do, many a time. Instead, I started with at-home exercises to build up my stamina, so I wouldn’t kill myself when I actually did haul my butt back to the gym.

Every morning, for a few weeks, I’d do at least 15-20 minutes of yoga, along with an intense 5- to 10-minute abs workout (planks, opposite arm/leg raise, squats, plank with leg lift, exercise ball, etc.). I figured if I could get up to a half-hour-plus workout routine in the mornings without gasping for breath, then I’d be “good enough” shape to return to the gym.

The best part about doing these at-home exercise—except for no-equipment needed—is that I could actually see a difference! That, coupled with a few dietary changes, I noticed my metabolism was up, I lost the extra few pounds, my muscles were toned and firm again, and, best of all, I’d lost about an inch around my waist. Woohoo!

If you’re struggling to get back on track like I was, go easy on yourself. Don’t guilt yourself into going to the gym every day, when we all know that life gets in the way.

Take it one day at a time, like I did, and you’ll see the changes soon enough.

Man’s Best Friend is Good for the Soul—and the Body!

The day that I brought Emma home from the breeder changed my life. She was a tiny little ball of white fluff that loved to nuzzle my neck and get lots of cuddles, which she still loves to do—along with getting plenty of belly rubs.

At that time, I was going through a very bad period of depression, and once she joined the household, life became a bit more gratifying with her at my side. After all, I had a puppy to walk (and boy, does she love to walk!), to feed and to tend to. There was hardly time to succumb to depression. For those of you who have/had puppies, you know that for the first 6-8 months, you’re on the go. Nonstop.

Emma has been by my side for many years, and has helped me navigate through depression, anxiety and grief, while keeping me active and motivated.

Not surprising, there are a majority of studies that show the physical, emotional and social benefits of having a canine companion. Here are just a few:

Reduce heart disease. A recent study shows that having a canine companion is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease (lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels).

Lower stress. Having a fur baby can help lower anxiety and blood pressure, reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Think about it. You’re sitting on the couch, giving belly rubs to a cute little fur ball who wants nothing more to snuggle and be pet. It turns us to mush, right?

Weight loss. If you have a dog, you better love to walk—and walk a lot. Ever since I brought Emma home, she’s been a walker. I know we were meant for each other because, I too, love to walk and hike and be outdoors. Our daily routine consists of at least 3 miles—sometimes more in cooler weather, and less in the summer. But we make up for it with her agility classes, which usually give me a run for my money, too!

Social life. Before I brought Emma home, I didn’t know all of my neighbors that well. But once Emma was on the scene, all that changed. Neighbors with dogs would come around and we would share stories about our fur babies’ latest antics. Not only that, but whenever I’m out and about with Emma, I’m guaranteed to be stopped by someone who loves dogs. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you’re accompanied by a great conversation starter. (Read: single peeps, having a dog is great for getting dates!)

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, stop thinking about it and do it! You won’t regret it. And if you are already a pet-parent like me, then you know what a bundle of joy these four-legged fur babies can be.

How To Choose the Right Dog For Your Lifestyle

My little WestieSo, you want a dog. Great! Being a pet parent is very rewarding. But it is also a big responsibility. There are factors to consider even before you walk into the shelter or choose a breeder to pick your pup.

Before bringing home your new fur baby, please do some research on which breed and/or size of dog would be best for you. Too often, people adopt a dog that doesn’t fit with their current lifestyle, and the dog ends up having adjustment issues (i.e. behavioral) or ends up getting re-homed because it can’t be trained.

When I first considered getting a dog, I gave a lot of thought about how my life would change: Who would she stay with when I went away? Did I have enough room in my small house? How could I exercise her? Did I need a dog-sitter? How long could she be left alone? Overall, I needed to make sure that the dog would fit into my lifestyle.

emmapuppyI did plenty of research on different breeds and sizes of dogs, I even went to several shelters, but as it turned out, I ended up with my first choice, a Westie (West Highland White Terrier). Westies are known for being stubborn (I can certainly attest to that!), energetic (they never slow down), and easily trainable (when they’re not being stubborn!).

Thankfully, I have been blessed with my little Westie over the years. She is a bundle of love that brings joy into my life every day. And she is certainly worth all the time and energy I continue to spend on caring for her.

Here are some things to consider that helped me find my forever fur baby that may help you:

How Much Time Do You Have?

As in, how much time do you have to devote to caring for and training your new dog? While puppies require a lot more attention than adult dogs, bringing home either will demand much of your time.

For the first few weeks, be sure you are home so you can help get her adjusted to the house. If you get a puppy that isn’t trained yet, you’ll need to start potty training on day 2 (yes, that’s right. Don’t wait!), otherwise, your house will be messy and smelly in no time.

But potty training isn’t where it stops. Dogs must be trained to understand the basics: sit, stay, come, wait, etc., otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for an unruly dog that people don’t want to approach or that won’t play well with other dogs. Buy books on training, hire a local dog trainer, go to a canine fitness center, take online courses, do whatever you have to do, but please, train your dog!

Tip: If you’re a workaholic, for the sake and sanity of the dog, please reconsider. Dogs need love, attention and lots of care. If they are left alone for too many hours, they can become depressed—or worse, destructive to the house due to separation anxiety.

Yes, Size Matters

If you live in a small studio apartment, it would not be wise to adopt a dog that can grow to over 100 lbs (a German shepherd, for example). Ideally, the smaller the space, the smaller the dog. In the home, dogs need space to move around and play; and if your dog is too large to spread out or get a quick lap around the living room, chances are, you’ll need a bigger place!

emmabythejumpsExercise is Essential

Are you someone who likes to go for long walks or runs every day or are you a homebody? Dogs need exercise, and lots of it! The worst thing you can do is not exercise your dog, which can lead to other issues (but that’s a story for another post).

Westies are terriers. That means, they are very active. I knew this when I got her. So, every day, I take Emma out for three long walks, each walk being at least one to one and a half miles. In addition to that, I take her to agility classes so she gets to exercise all her muscles and can socialize with other dogs.

Healthy Diet = Healthy Dog

Exercise and diet go hand-in-hand, whether you’re human or canine. And since I’m a healthy eater, so is Emma. While I am careful of what I feed her (grain-free, human-grade ingredients), I make sure I don’t overfeed her with extra treats (only when Grandpa comes to visit does she get extra) or table scraps (never!). An overweight dog, is an unhealthy dog.

When I first took Emma in for evaluation at the canine gym where she goes to agility, the owner of the school told me she was “overweight” and I could be shortening her life by two years (yes, two years!) if she remained this size. Emma is a small dog. The ideal weight for her breed (female) is 14-16 lbs. She was over 18 lbs at this time! I totally freaked out. I want my fur baby around forever!

What did I do? Well, I immediately put her on a crash-diet (no treats, portion control and more veggies!) and enrolled her into agility classes. The weight came off—and has stayed off! She is a healthy 15.5 lbs, and continues to get plenty of exercise, eat a healthy diet, and even get special salmon dinners once a week!

How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

A lot. No matter what breed or size dog you bring home, be prepared to spend a bundle on your pup, especially during that first year of new and changing diets, necessary supplies (crates, beds, travel carriers, etc.), toys, and, of course, vet bills. All this can add up.

Adding a fur-baby to your family can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. These creatures aren’t just your pets—they become part of the family and should be treated as such.