All those walks around the block to let Fido do his business are adding up: The American Heart Association reports dog owners are 54 percent more likely to meet their recommended level of daily physical activity, thereby reducing their risk of heart disease.

"In general, pet ownership has proven to lead to a number of great health benefits associated with happiness, reducing stress, and lowering blood pressure," says Houston physical therapist Brian Haden of Aquatic Care Programs, himself an owner of two Labrador pups. "But dogs are special. Because they need exercise and often demand it from us, they have a persistent way of urging us onto a path toward more exercise and better health."

The CDC recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week to improve and maintain long-term physical (and mental) health, and research suggests people with pooches are probably more apt to hit that benchmark. Studies from the Journal of Physical Activity & Health in 2013 and BMC Public Health in 2017 reported dog owners took an average of 2,760 more steps a day than non-dog owners, which adds up to 23 additional minutes of daily moderate exercise.

Looking for a change of scenery? Try one of these dog parks off the beaten path.

"Walking is one of the best physical activities nearly anyone can do," Haden says. "Taking a dog out for a walk often makes the activity more enjoyable and feel less like exercise—less like a chore."

If you're among the 54.4 million U.S. households with at least one dog, keep that in mind the next time your pup approaches you towing his own leash. And when you feel the celebratory buzz of your Fitbit as you take your 10,000th step, you might throw that good boy a bone.

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