Did you make a New Year's resolution this year? Each year, roughly half of all Americans vow to make changes for the better. Losing weight, exercising more, reducing stress levels and spending more time with family and friends are some of the more popular resolutions. And each year roughly 90% of those Americans who made a resolution, failed to keep them.
As horse owners and equestrians, we have an advantage when it comes to keeping our resolutions. Taking care of our horses and riding helps us to burn more calories, get more exercise, reduces our stress levels and allows us to spend more time with our family or riding buddies. If one of these choices was your resolution this year, you will be happy to learn just how much your horse can help.
Copyright © 2012 - 2016 PonyZine, LLC
All Rights Reserved
Surprisingly, horseback riding and equine-related activities can burn quite a few calories. These figures, obtained from the calorie calculator on the HealthStatus.com website show just how many calories a 125 pound horse owner might burn in an hour at the stable:
Adding a 10 minute trot to the riding routine and spending another five minutes walking the horse until he is cool and we've added another 82 calories. This horsey workout now burns over 300 calories! Compare this to the same 125 pound person spending a half hour walking briskly (146 calories) or doing high-impact aerobics (199 calories). Most equestrians would agree, spending time at the barn is a far more pleasurable exercise option.
More importantly, understanding which equestrian activities burn the most calories can help us lose weight easier and faster. Riding at the posting trot or canter burns more calories than a quiet trail ride at a walk. Stable chores, like mucking stalls, carrying water and putting up hay all require large energy expenditures. By changing our stable routine to include more of these activities we can rev up our metabolism and drive away those unwanted pounds.
A 2009 Scientific American ™ article indicated that 75% of teenagers and adults in the US were deficient in Vitamin D, one of the fat-soluble vitamins used by the human body. Vitamin D3, often called the sunshine vitamin, is manufactured in the skin when UVB rays trigger a reaction that changes 7 dehydrocholesterol into cholecalciferol.
In the human body, vitamin D is essential to maintain healthy bones and regulate the immune system. It is believed to lower the risk or reduce the symptoms of several diseases including cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and multiple sclerosis. It may also have a function in weight loss and maintaining brain function in the elderly.
Although many foods are fortified with Vitamin D, some recent studies indicate that these sources may not be adequate. This is not good news since Vitamin D production only occurs in the skin when the UVB index is greater than 3. Seasonal and weather conditions determine how much solar radiation reaches the surface of the earth. Generally, the UVB index reaches 3 most days in the tropics, but for those living in temperate regions (between the tropics and arctic circle) the UVB index stays below this level during the winter.
To compensate for this, the human body can store vitamin D for up to 60 days providing there were ample levels of vitamin production prior to winter. This, of course, is where our horses can help us. Spending time outdoors during the spring and fall exposes equestrians to an adequate level of sunlight to replenish Vitamin D levels. This puts us on the fast track to better health.
Conversely, too much exposure to the sun's radiation is associated with a higher risk of skin cancer, cataracts and premature aging of the skin. Sunscreen and protective clothing are the best ways to protect the skin from overexposure. Incidentally, several studies have shown that sunscreen usage has not been associated with insufficient levels of Vitamin D. For more information on the UVB level or to check the predicted UVB index for your area click here.
The stress-reduction benefits of owning and interacting with pets, like dogs and cats, has been a topic of research for many years. These studies have shown that owning pets can lower blood pressure, reduce depression, improve recovery from illness and lessen feelings of loneliness and social isolation. In light of this research, it's obvious that pets, including horses, are good for our souls.
Calories come from the food we eat. The dietary choices we make must balance the energy we expend in order to maintain our present weight. Seems simple enough. If we want to lose weight, we can eat fewer calories, expend more calories by exercising or do a combination of the two. But in order to lose one pound of weight, we have to burn 3500 calories. Not so simple anymore!
Forging friendships while riding reduces stress and alleviates feelings of loneliness.
Likewise, almost any equestrian can attest to feeling better mentally after a spending a few hours at the stable. Concentrating on one's equitation position while riding or focusing on a training goal certainly helps to drive other thoughts from the head, including those that contribute to elevated stress levels. In many ways, horseback riding can produce the same effect as yoga or meditation. While these feelings can be attributed to "escaping" from the stress of everyday life, there are actually physiological changes in the body that occur during exercise that can make us feel better and reduce our stress levels.
Exercise, including the level of physical activity associated with caring for and riding horses, can boost the brain's production of endorphins. These neurotransmitters are similar in chemical structure to the opiate class of drugs and can lead to feelings of exercise-induced euphoria often dubbed the "runner's high." Likewise, accomplishing riding or training goals can elevate our self-confidence and make us feel better about ourselves. All told, working with and riding horses enhances our mood, helps us relax and greatly reduces our level of stress.
Lastly, horse ownership has inherent social benefits. Whether you board your horse at the local stable or keep several in the backyard, owning horses put you in a social circle with approximately two million other horse owners in the United States. For older adults, studies show that social interaction has a bearing on mental and physical health. Being socially active has been shown to reduce the rate of memory decline and may make elderly individuals less likely to develop dementia.
Spending time with other like-minded individuals can also alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. Riding, showing, tack shopping and attending clinics or horse expositions are just a few ways to bond with other equestrians. Forging friendships outside of our families also helps us cope better with everyday problems and stress by giving us a network of moral support. Friendships improve our mood and foster better mental and physical health.
Likewise, sharing one's love of horses with a spouse and children has the added benefit of bringing a family closer together. Horse-centric vacations and weekend trail rides are great ways to encourage more family time. Youth that are involved with horses tend to be more active and typically have less time to spend playing video games or watching television. Caring for horses has the added benefit of teaching our kids about responsibility, compassion, patience and perseverance.
All told, horses have a huge impact upon our lives. They keep us mentally and physically engaged on a daily basis. They help us burn calories, provide us with muscle-building exercise, and encourage us to be more socially active. So whether you are trying to keep your New Year's resolution or you're just trying to find a reason to spend more time with your four-legged friend, there are many ways which horse contribute to our overall health and well-being!
Riding is a physical activity that burns calories for both horse and rider.