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Get Off That Couch Together

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Your partner may be the key to getting more exercise…

For better or worse, your significant other’s health habits strongly influence your own. Got a spouse who thinks that walking to the kitchen is exercise, and you’re less likely to stay fit yourself. And there’s research to back this up.

Important new finding: In a study of 3,722 adults, nearly 70% of men took up physical activity if their wives did, while only one-quarter of men became active without their spouses as inspiration. Women are similarly affected by their husbands but to a lesser extent.

If you’re single: Having a supportive friend who exercises may give you the incentive to get moving yourself.   

MOTIVATION AND MORE

Why does it help to have an active partner? For starters, it is a great form of motivation.

Seeing your partner exercise reminds you to work out. An active partner also lends social support, acting as your cheerleader and sharing strategies for coping with setbacks such as sore muscles or trepidation when trying a new activity. Your partner can provide accountability, too­­—you are less likely to skip a workout if someone is planning on joining you.

An added perk: Because exercise has been repeatedly linked with better heart health and lower rates of cancer, diabetes and depression, this means that the two of you will increase your odds of having more higher-quality years together.

Working out as a team (for example, going on long walks or jogs together) allows you to talk and reconnect. Bonus: These opportunities contribute to a satisfying and committed relationship, which will help ensure that your partnership will stay strong.

Attempting shared goals, such as completing a 5K walk or run, gives you the chance to grow and celebrate as a duo. If the exercise is something novel—this could be snowshoeing, tandem bicycling or hiking a beautiful new route—you may get an extra benefit. Couples report feeling happier with their relationships and more in love with their partners after completing an exciting physical activity together…perhaps because you associate your partner with fun and adventure.

HOW TO BE THE CATALYST

If you’re the more active one in your marriage—or simply the one taking the lead in making exercise a priority—your first step is to light a fire under your more sedentary partner. Caution: Nagging him/her to join you can backfire—especially if your partner’s weight is a touchy subject or if he finds exercise to be intimidating or stressful.

Helpful: Think of some activities your partner might enjoy. Then start with a low-key conversation, explaining that you’re planning to try some new activities that are fun and healthy. Explain that you’d be happy for your partner to join you but that you understand if he isn’t interested or wants to exercise alone. You might also offer support by, say, taking over some household chores to give your partner time to exercise.

What works well: Suggest enjoyable activities that don’t seem like exercise but will improve fitness—for example, ballroom dancing, kayaking, a walk in the woods, golf or tai chi. You might also find local clubs focused on these activities.

Note: You need not exercise together in order to experience the benefits above—such as supporting one another and sharing advice on workout challenges. In fact, exercising independently is helpful when one partner prefers the meditative aspects of yoga, for example, while the other enjoys the competitiveness of basketball.

Ask your partner how you can help—maybe he would like some suggestions on finding a class or sport to try…perhaps she’s anxious about shopping for the right workout gear or embarrassed about being in a gym setting.

Offer reassurance, then step back and see what happens. Resist the urge to pressure your partner…stay active yourself…and be supportive. Instead of saying, “You should work out more,” try, “My hike is getting kind of stale—would you come with me and keep me company?”

MAKING IT WORK

Exercise within a marriage is not a competition. Just because your partner has been running for years, it doesn’t mean that you need to attempt an hour-long run on your first day—or even that you need to run at all. If one of you is much stronger than the other and you have decided to try exercising as a team, pick activities that allow you to tailor your workout according to your own fitness level. Good choices: Spin class, where you control the resistance on your bike…hiking (one person could wear a weighted vest)…a beginner-to-intermediate yoga class…or an indoor rock-climbing wall.

Also helpful: Use exercise as an opportunity for a date night—research shows this can strengthen a relationship. To ensure follow-through, put it on your calendar and go out for a healthy bite afterward.

TRY, TRY AGAIN…

If you and your partner are fighting as a result of your repeated efforts to motivate him to exercise, back off for a few months and restrategize. But don’t give up—suggest a new activity, offer encouragement and keep up your own exercise habit. When it comes down to it, you want your partner—and your marriage—to be healthy.

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Source: Mona Xu, PhD, assistant professor of experimental psychology at Idaho State University (ISU) and director of the ISU Social, Health and Neuroscience Lab, which studies the interplay between close interpersonal relationships and behavioral health. She is coauthor of a recent study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise on the ways that others influence our exercise habits. Date: November 1, 2015 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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