Dogs are adding a new twist to exercise classes at the Westminster Oaks Retirement Community in Florida. Three times each week, they accompany two doctoral students to an exercise class that is part of a study to look at whether exercising with dogs can lead to better health outcomes.
“Between each exercise, we try to leave a little bit of time so people can pet the dogs and talk to the handlers,” says Ashley Artese, a first-year doctoral student in exercise science.
Volunteers for the study at Westminster Oaks were split into two groups of seven. One exercises with dogs trained by Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s pet therapy program. The other group exercises without them.
Walking around the room, biceps curls with light dumb bells and resistance band stretching are all a part of the routine. When the group working with dogs lift their dumb bells, dog Bogey picks up a plastic one. And when the seniors walk around the room, Lola, Stryker and Bogey walk in circles too.
“Exercise classes are not something I call fun, but with the dogs, it is fun,” said Mary Stevenson, a Westminster Oaks resident. When she heard the exercise class would involve dogs, it caught her interest.
In addition to Lola, Stryker and Bogey, there are four other dogs — Cosmo, Casey, Kayla and Zachy.
For now, all of the work is on a volunteer basis, but all of the parties involved hope it will turn into a funded research study in the future. At the end of this program, the professors and doctoral students will review the data to see how it might translate into a large-scale study.