want to drop 5 pounds? get a dog!

A 25-year study performed from 1969 to 1994 that tracked weight loss in the obese found that an exercise-only plan can reduce the amount of weight in people by an average of three pounds over 15 weeks. The exercise-and-diet group brought the weight-loss average down to seven pounds in that same time period. To the exercise-only people, I have a word of advice: Get a dog!

Since bringing our golden retriever puppy home less than eight weeks ago, I have lost five pounds. Five pounds on an average-size woman is quite a bit. And it seems to be all lost in fat. I’m becoming more lean and more muscular, which goes without saying that that’s a good thing.

How did I do it? Well, walking a rambunctious puppy two to three times per day for an average of 20 minutes per walk is the key. Playing soccer with him for a few minutes a day a couple times a day helps too. As does getting up at a regular time every morning and not lollygagging in bed (although I haven’t had the pleasure of sleeping in since I was a teenager–and even then it was rare).

Golden retrievers are high-energy dogs. Golden retriever puppies are insanely high-energy dogs. They need to get out at least twice daily, and not just in the yard, but into the neighborhood or the woods or the park, or wherever time and distance permit. Not doing so will make for an ornery dog that can become destructive. Unless you enjoy shopping to replace the furniture that’s been gnawed to slivers, you may want to get on this plan.

This morning I took Woody across the road to the regional park. We are blessed to live within walking distance to one of the largest regional parks in the United States. We are also blessed with beautiful weather that permits taking walks and hikes on nearly a daily basis. Today we explored the bike park for 20 minutes of what Woody would describe, I’m sure, as pure bliss. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the dirt under his paws, the birds flying overhead, and the bunnies scampering across the path were a delight to a dog whose breed loves the outdoors, birds, and tracking scents. He was in puppy Nirvana.

I realize that not everyone has it so good. Maybe their landscape is sidewalks and buildings, maybe the birds flying overhead are helicopters, maybe the closest park is overrun by undesirables. And maybe there is snow or ice or frigid temperatures preventing them from pulling on their sneakers and taking a walk. That’s excusable. To the rest of you, take to the paths and sidewalks and put one foot in front of the other to get a little exercise, to get a little healthier. And if your motivation wanes, get a dog.

not goodbye, but so long

Most years end with a great majority of us compiling lists of personal resolutions that we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Whether we make lists or not, to the man, we give some thought to the upcoming year and what it may hold for us: a new love, maybe; a new job; the hope of an illness being successfully treated or one we fear may be there never appearing. Or maybe it will be a grand vacation, a milestone birthday to celebrate, or a new material good that we’ve desired for some time.

Whatever it is, these thoughts tend toward the positive, as well they should, because each year presents the hope of something not only different, but better. I am anticipating some big changes in 2012 myself, some, I’m sorry to say, that I’m not welcoming. For one, my younger daughter will be moving out of the house on the first of the year. Even though she’s 23, to me she is still my baby girl, and I will miss her companionship, a companionship I’ve had on a daily basis for the past 23 years. Her sister moved out 14 months ago, and she still comes over at least once a week for dinner, so it’s, to quote “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?,” not goodbye, but so long. Still, my older daughter’s schedule is more 9 to 5 than my younger girl’s, and I fear I’ll see even less of her than I have this past year, which brought her her first full-time job and a steady boyfriend.

Also new in 2012 is raising this little bundle of energy we call Woody, a golden retriever we brought into the family almost a month ago. At 12 weeks, he’s quite a handful, but I’m seeing signs of maturity as we work with him on a daily basis to get him to learn what he should know to be a good ol’ dog one day. Even though his presence is more positive than negative, I still have been confronted with myriad responsibilities since he arrived on the scene. I’ve had to rearrange my life to fit into his, for one, although it should be the other way around. But here I am, daily getting out of bed when he wakes, whether I’m tired or sick (or sick and tired), because he needs to be fed and brought outside. And here I’ll be, working in an area of the house where I don’t typically work in order to be in the same room with him in case he gets into something he shouldn’t. And there I go, taking him for a walk or outside to play or “use the facilities,” because he needs to get his exercise or relief so he doesn’t drive me crazy when I need quiet time.

I wonder what I’ll do in the upcoming weeks when my workload gets extremely busy (think straight eight- or ten-hour days with not even a lunchbreak away from my desk) and I’m the only one here to take him outside or on those necessary walks. How I’ll manage is beyond my imagination at the moment. By then, I’m hoping he’ll have adjusted to being out in the yard by himself for significant periods of time without his getting into every bush, putting every rock into his mouth, or digging to China, although I doubt that will be the case. He’ll also likely want that necessary companionship that his breed tends to desire to be happy dogs. So, I’m anticipating some stress-filled days.

Other changes? With one child out of the house, we will have a vacant room, and I look forward to setting that up as an office and guestroom, which, with four kids, we’ve never, ever had. Assuming I’ll get a break from the puppy and be able to get to that quiet place to work, I look forward to having a room of my own in which to not only work but to get away.

I also have a mini trip planned with my best friend of 37 years. We just hit a milestone birthday in December and we are going to get together to celebrate in a city midway between our homes. This is a big deal to me, because I don’t get away very often (as in never). I look at this trip also as one in a series of pleasurable things I plan to do for myself. As a mom for nearly 26 years straight, with one minor child still to raise, I have never put myself before my family. So, I hope to try to enjoy myself more in 2012.

Whatever the year brings, I wish for no heartache and no stress and a year of positive thinking and a sense of humor. Even if circumstances don’t change and I muddle through 2012 much the same way I did ’11 and ’10, at least I’ll view what life churns out with a good attitude and a great laugh, which can make all the difference in the world. So long, 2011.