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Woman exercising with her partner

Exercising Together: Tips for Couples

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The scene looks so lovely in ads for everything from vitamins to vacation destinations: devoted couples jogging, biking or hiking together while smiling broadly and gazing adoringly into each other's eyes.

If that's been your experience while exercising with a spouse or partner, congratulations!

Many of us have somewhat less rapturous results when exercising with those in our closest relationships. Consider the story of one Pennsylvania woman: She had finally convinced her boyfriend to go bike riding on a scenic trail. She was peddling along, enjoying the physical activity and fresh air, when she turned around to see him wobbling, trying to ride and light a cigarette at the same time. Clearly, the pair had differing ideas about exercise.

Most people prefer exercising with other people. And we're more likely to get and stay active when we feel socially connected to others in our exercise environment. But how close should those relationships be?

The research evidence shows that spouses can make great exercise partners, even if one is less enthusiastic about physical activity than the other. The benefits, for both, are significant, including improved health, better sleep and more energy. Physical activity also helps with emotional and sexual health.

In many instances, when one spouse becomes more active, that influences the other partner to exercise more. That effect can be long-lasting. Active individuals are most likely to have equally active spouses, even through their 70s.

These tips can help you turn a love relationship into an exercise partnership as well:

  • Avoid becoming the gym teacher from hell. Be gentle. To get started, suggest an easy walk. Go at the pace of whichever of you is slower. Don't correct the other person's movement form or technique unless your advice is requested.

  • Make yourselves both beginners. Pick an activity that's new for both of you. That way nobody feels less competent, and you have the fun of learning together. Be sure it's something you both think would be fun. 

  • Make a date. Have a realistic plan for when you'll exercise. It's better to plan on being active together for 30 minutes once a week—and follow through on that—than to decide you'll exercise as a couple five times a week from the start and then fail to achieve that level. Failure can cause one or both of you to give up.
    Instead, build your activity frequency and the duration of each joint session gradually. Fit in 10-minute bouts of exercise on your own (brisk walking is fine) to reach the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day on most days of the week.