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Women's Health Blog

Boomer Unchained: Dog Walking is not Exercise

Walking the Jack Russells


My Beebe doctor told me a couple of years ago during my first Medicare “annual” that dog walking is not exercise.  He said while my physical condition was pretty good (take away a few pounds), I had to step it up and get the heart rate going. He advised me to take some exercise classes. 

I smiled but didn’t believe him. I am older than he, after all. Didn’t he know that I walked at least three miles a day with my dog? Didn’t he realize I often clocked 10,000 steps on my Fitbit? Haven’t we all read that walking 10,000 steps each day is the gold standard for healthy living?

Health data for Apple watch

I didn’t believe him until recently when I joined a Johnson & Johnson heart healthy clinical trial and got my own, fancy Apple watch - $39 for clinical trial participants.

The trial’s official name is: HEARTLINE - A Heart Health Study Using Digital Technology to Investigate if Early AF Diagnosis Reduces the Risk of Thromboembolic Events Like Stroke IN the Real-world Environment. It can be found on the National Institutes of Health website.  

The Apple watch is the Digital Technology referred to. The Apple watch monitors me, and the trial research staff get to see its data, as well as my Medicare medical records. To get into the trial, I had to be on Medicare (over 65), live in the United States, and be free of atrial Fibrillation (AFib) – a type of irregular heartbeat that we older people are at risk for developing.  The trial lasts three years and I believe there are 150,000 people in it.

“You might learn something,” my doctor told me when I asked him if I should enroll in the trial. 

I hate to admit it, but I read about it on a sponsored ad on Facebook.  The idea of having the opportunity to buy a heavily discounted, brand new Apple watch was too much for me to turn down. 

In case you don’t know, the Apple watch has an app that will call 911 if you fall and don’t get up. It will also alert anyone you have programmed into that app. That over-60 fear of dying alone after falling down a flight of stairs while alone miraculously disappears. I’ve wanted an Apple watch since I heard about that feature as I am alone a lot. I’m also rather clumsy. How many people do you know who have broken both their ankles? I also broke a rib and a wrist in my younger days through athletic accidents.

Anyway, back to the trial: 

Apple watch

For my new Apple watch and me, this experience has become all about closing the circles. If you don’t have an Apple watch, I’ll explain. There is an app on the watch that monitors your heartbeat, blood oxygen levels, as well as how far you go (GPS), how much you move, and how often you stand up. I guess for us seniors, sitting is the new smoking.  The worst thing we can do is nothing.  The kiss of death appears to now be continual sitting – whether reading, writing, knitting, eating, talking on the phone, or watching television.

The app has a red circle for movement, a green circle for exercise and a blue one for standing. You set your daily goals and then you have to meet them to close the circles. The standing goal is set for you already, 12 stands a day. All you have to do to meet your stand goal is to stand up and walk around the room for a minute every hour. That means you can’t get lost in your book or the mahjong game on Zoom. 

Movement can be anything. Taking the garbage out, vacuuming, walking to the mailbox, going into another room to answer the phone. You get the picture.  My daily movement goal is 550 calories (Whatever that means). I usually meet it.

The green exercise circle is the eye-opener for me.

It proved my doctor right.

My goal is 60 minutes a day. Easy, I thought. I have a Jack Russell terrier and we walk for hours each day, if it isn’t raining. He doesn’t like rain. So, each time we go out, I set the exercise app at ‘outdoor walking’ and go.  I started realizing that even though I walked two or three miles, the app was only giving me 10- or 15-minutes exercise credit.  At first, I thought my new $400 watch was broken (It that why it was so cheap?)

Then, I recalled my doctor’s words: “Walking a dog is not exercise.”

He was right! (Do I tell him?)

I could not fool the Apple watch, even though my now forgotten Fitbit had been congratulating me for all my steps, posting awards on Facebook and making pinging sounds.  The Apple watch would give me credit for movement, but not exercise. My dog’s stopping to sniff, to relieve himself, to look around, to bark at a squirrel, to beg for a treat, and to dig in the sand, had slowed my heart rate and dropped me into the lazy level instead of the power walking one that would increase my heart rate enough to be considered exercise. 

The Heartline clinical trial also comes with an app on my iPhone that regularly sends me heart healthy information. The one I received today is about 
Stress & Aging = Levels of cortisol increase as we age, which can lead to health issues including general anxiety, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Lifestyle changes that improve heart health can also reduce risk of cognitive decline; it says. Lifestyle changes advised are:
•    Keep moving
•    Eat healthy (fruits, veggies, etc.)
•    Be social
•    Stay engaged
•    Lower stress (through activities such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing).

I hope this helps you keep to your healthy lifestyle.

Here is more information on this trial:

Susan Towers, 2020

Susan Towers

Susan L. Towers, M.S., retired from Beebe’s Marketing & Communications department in 2017 to pursue her writing, and to experience new adventures with friends and family. She has published stories in Delaware Beach Life magazine, as well as two fiction short stories in anthologies. She is member of the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild and the American /Society of Journalists and Authors. She is an advocate of the arts and humanities, and is passionate about the outdoors.