By Taylor McLamb

The benefits of exercise for our mind and body are endless. Engaging in physical activity can go a long way – whether it’s a morning run, yoga, or weight lifting, just the act of getting your blood pumping, can both elevate your mood and help you feel energized for the rest of the day. Recently, with the age of social media, people have turned the act of exercise up a notch by including an unlikely, four-legged addition.

Hit up Instagram and you can find pictures of yoga instructors practicing the act of Goat yoga, Dog yoga, Cat yoga, or basically any small critter that you can balance on your back would suffice. There’s dog-friendly marathons and work-out videos on YouTube that give tutorials on how to train with your pet. Is this trend beneficial, or is the cuteness factor a gimmick to produce more likes?

Studies show that interacting with animals has many mental health bene ts, which
is why they’re so good for therapeutic purposes. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. Dogs are known to be very social creatures; just the act of having a dog can get you out of the house, moving and interacting with others.

Dog Days Run, which is one of the oldest runs in the Gainesville area, features both a 5K and 1-mile run, where owners can run alongside their dogs. For the last 37 years, this event has brought together a devoted community of dog-owners to bond and get active.

Bryce Talsma, coordinator of the run, said that they strive to promote wellness within the community and that the pet owners in the area love getting outside and going for a run with their dog. “Including dogs in our race is a really great way to get people outside and get some exercise,” said Talsma. “There are a lot of studies that show that animals provide great emotional and physical support for people.”

The liberating act of yoga, which helps people find a peaceful connection to their body and mind, draws inspiration from animals, due to their strong, powerful and sensitive nature. In order to create a more authentic human-animal connection, it makes sense to add an actual animal to your yoga mat. Victoria Thompson is a devoted yogi and certified yoga instructor who values the inclusion of animals when she teaches.

“I’ve usually just had my dog with me when I do yoga because I believe having animals in your practice can improve your mood and the rest of your day,” said Thompson.

With the obvious health advantages of exercise plus the psychological and physical improvements from human-animal bonding, it seems like a match made in heaven.

However, is this genuinely a good idea or merely a fresh, ashy way to pander toward millennials?

Dr. Barbara Welsch, licensed psychologist and therapy dog coordinator at the University of Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center, emphasizes that she has never practiced the act of exercising with animals, she finds the trend of Goat yoga in particular, baffling.

“The yoga that I’ve studied was a spiritual yoga and it was about uniting breath and awareness, it was about the being within yourself,” said Welsch.

Thompson said that when she added animals into her yoga, it brought more people to her classes that wouldn’t normally do yoga. However, she admitted that the benefits are there, if you can fight the distractions.

Even if the recent influx of fitness social media accounts were using this trend to motivate animal lovers to go to the gym – would that really be a bad thing? If your dog helps you get out of the house and get a taste of fresh air, there’s no harm in that. Whether or not you agree with the fact that this phenomenon could be a publicity stunt, it seems to be bringing joy to a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with spending more quality time with animals, even if that happens to be a catnap.

Dr. Barbara Welsch, licensed psychologist and therapy dog coordinator at the University of Florida’s Counseling and Wellness Center, emphasizes that she has never practiced the