What's the best way to stick to your New Year's exercise resolution? Answer: Your dog holds the key, and it's a leash.

Most dog owners won’t be surprised to hear that results from a new study, published in a recent NYTimes Well Blog, found that your dog is the best exercise partner you could ask for, in terms of ensuring consistency and gaining overall fitness improvement. Amazingly, people assigned to a group that had to take a bus well out of their way to an animal shelter in order to walk a dog daily stuck to their walking schedule much better than another group of people who chose a friend to walk with them on a trail close to their home. It turns out that the people who were supposed to walk together started influencing each other to skip their daily walks. Hmm, that sounds all too familiar. The last time my workout partner and I planned to hit a spin class together, somehow we ended up at happy hour instead.

It’s not something I pay much attention to, from a personal fitness point of view, but the twice-daily walks I take around the neighborhood with Rupert, my always sweet and sometimes sloppy retriever mix, have become such a part of our daily routine it’s like brushing my teeth. In fact one usually occurs immediately after the other. When he looks at me with those beseeching “puppy dog eyes” (literally), tail a-wagging a mad tempo rhythm, and then starts running in circles around me, it’s hard not to be infected by the same level of enthusiasm, and out the door we go.

I’ve always had a hard time motivating to work out, and once a trainer said to me: “Just get yourself to the gym, and tell yourself you’ll just do 10 minutes. See how you feel after 10 minutes. Chances are, you’ll keep it going.” With Rupert pulling me towards and out the door twice a day, I don’t need to muster up any motivational tricks. On days when I think it’s too cold, too rainy, too early, too dark, too… whatever, I tell him, “we’re just going to the corner.” The corner is our “10 minutes” and usually, before I’ve even realized it, half an hour or more has passed, he’s bounding along, I’m jogging along with him, and we’re both feeling more clearheaded and energized.

A lot of my friends have made the predictable “I will exercise more this year” New Year’s resolutions, and I’m darn sure they wouldn’t have any trouble keeping it if they became dog owners. What do you think? Do you have any stories to share about your dog-walking experiences and any related exercise or mood benefits you’ve noticed?