But enthusiasm for exercise is just one of the healthy behaviors humans can learn from dogs, said Marcus, who last year wrote Fit as Fido: Follow Your Dog to Better Health. Dogs instinctively get enough sleep and maintain good hydration -- traits that have, for instance, been linked with weight loss in people.
"A lot of times as humans, we mistake that drive for water with a drive to get more food," Marcus said.
Currently, an estimated two out of three adults in the United States are overweight. And being overweight, Kushner stressed, has been associated with significant medical problems, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke.
A few years ago, Kushner co-authored a study to see if pets and people could help each other lose weight. It compared the weight lost by 36 overweight people who were paired with an obese dog with the weight lost by 56 overweight people who participated alone.
Pets were fed a calorie-controlled diet. When their ideal body weight was reached, based on their breed and age, the animals were put on a maintenance diet. People participating in the study were given dietary counseling and encouraged to walk at least three times a week for 30 minutes.
Published in the journal Obesity, the study found that people with dogs were slightly more active than those without dogs and that, after a year, they had lost an average of 11 pounds, or 4.7 percent of their body weight.
Pudgy pooches benefited from the buddy system, too. They slimmed down an average of 12 pounds, or 15 percent of their body weight.
Kushner said that pets really do motivate people to stick with a diet and exercise plan until the pounds come off and stay off. People in the study reported that their dogs not only gave them incentive to work out but made the experience more enjoyable -- two predictor
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