Picture this: You’re lying in bed, sleeping peacefully, when your alarm blasts and rips you out of dreamland. You roll over groggily and hit snooze. It’s 6 a.m. You’d planned to go to the gym before work today…but you’re so tired. Who cares if I skip? you think.
You vow to go tomorrow, then snuggle under the covers. Now imagine the same scenario, but you’ve made a plan to meet someone. Not flaking now, huh? In fact, you might even realise you’re looking forward to catching up with her – and, of course, doing your workout.
That’s the power of a partner. And the benefits extend beyond the momentary accountability check: People who undertook a yearlong workout programme in a pair had only a 6% dropout rate, compared with 43% for solo sweaters, a study found. Sweating with a fit friend IRL is awesome, but there are other ways to embrace fitness-ships. No matter who, what, when, or where you team up, you’ll both score major results and strengthen your bond. Win-win, win-win.
Here’s how to make the most of any situation:
1. Turn your long-distance bestie into your workout bud
Have a friend you would work out with all the time, if only you lived in the same zip code? Well, now it’s easier than ever to maintain a workout relationship when you’re miles apart. And that long-distance partnership (where you stay accountable through texting, via FaceTime during workouts, or by logging on to the same streaming class) can be just as effective as an in-person meet-up. If you’re in different time zones and can’t exercise at the same time, having one person who knows your goals and checks in with a quick “Did you get your workout in?” can up your chances of sticking to a routine, says Dr Deborah Feltz, a distinguished professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University. How you construct that – a daily text with a friend who lives states away, a post to a Facebook accountability group, or even sharing your Apple Watch activity with your sister – is your choice.
2. Find an app that feels like a faux bestie
Don’t have a designated distance buddy? Don’t sweat it. “People who work out with a video-game-like virtual friend – one who performs a bit stronger than they do – go longer and harder than they would alone,” says Feltz. Download Zwift to turn your solo sessions into an interactive game that lets you participate in real-time group runs and rides with people around the world by way of an avatar. Or join Strava, a social app on which you can share and check out others’ running and cycling data, to get a little hit of connection and healthy competition whenever you want (or need) it.
3. Make your pooch your fitness partner
Who says your workout buddy has to be human? Four-legged friends make excellent companions. People who regularly walk their dogs are more likely to be in better shape than those who stroll with other people, according to research. Plus, the guilt from puppy-dog eyes may be greater than the guilt of turning down a friend. In a study at Purdue University, those who received an email about the importance of walking their dog boosted their active time with pooches from 10 minutes to 80. When asked why, the subjects said they were concerned about their dog’s health and didn’t consider the benefits they themselves were getting. Puppy love is a very powerful motivator, people!
Besides everyday walks, sign up for a dog-friendly race and consider investing in a hands-free running leash to keep you and Fido on track.
4. Find another four-legged friend
No pooch? Swapping TV time for playtime with your cat or other pet and their toys can bump up your activity levels too. And if you’re lacking a furry friend, hit up a horseback riding class, do goat yoga (yep, that’s a thing), or volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter.
5. Sweat with colleagues instead of scheduling a coffee catch-up
Meeting a colleague for a cycling class instead of a beverage catch-up is becoming more popular (secret’s out!), and with good reason. Sure, it’s an excellent way to multitask and fit exercise into busy days, but it can also be a boon for your work relationships. A rush of hormones is likely to make you and your colleagues feel happy and more comfortable around each other – obviously good vibes to bring back to the office, says Dr Jack Raglin, a professor of kinesiology at Indiana University Bloomington. “If you can work together in the gym and support one another, that can transfer to your daily job life too.” Added bonus: Exercise has been linked to improved productivity, memory, and focus – all the more reason to take your work wife to the gym instead of the bar.
Try turning a brainstorming session with a co-worker into a 15-minute walk. People are more creative when they’re on the move (and right after activity), a Stanford University study found, so this is especially clutch if you sit at desks all day. Level up by reserving a fitness class. Go for ones that promote communication – like a teamwork-focused boot camp or a boxing class where you practice combinations together – for the biggest bonding benefit.
6. Get busy (in the gym) with your significant other
Tackling a physical challenge with your S.O. has been shown to help couples feel more satisfied in their relationships and more in love. In fact, couples who work out together report more frequent sex in surveys. Bedroom benefits aside, working out in front of your partner – and leaning on them for motivation when you need it – is a smart way to practice vulnerability. It can also intensify your own accountability: Men in a cardiac study whose spouses placed a high value on sticking to healthy habits had much greater success than men whose partners weren’t nudging them.
One way to make sure you and your partner are a fitness dream team? Learn each other’s preferred motivation styles, suggests Raglin. Figuring out what’s most helpful for you individually is the best way to avoid conflict and elevate your connection. “No one wants to be shamed if they’re struggling, but some people do want tough love. Set up boundaries for motivation – like, ‘Sometimes I’ll have to miss a class for work, and I need you to understand that. But if I’m trying to skip for any other reason, I want you to push me to go.’ That way, there are expectations in place for how you’ll motivate each other, and no one gets annoyed,” says Raglin.
7. Recruit all your buds for one big workout fest
Group workouts lower stress by 26% and improve quality of life, according to a study. Researchers believe the social experience you get in a team setting is a factor in the mental health benefits. You’ll get the most when you share a specific, common goal (like training for the same race) and when the group is on the smaller side, says Feltz.
When the squad is small, it will still be noticed if you’re not
there. Otherwise, you can fall victim to “social loafing”, which happens when
you rely on the size of the group to avoid working hard or to feel less guilty
about missing a meet-up. CrossFit, November Project, and organised running
groups plan the workout for you, making it even easier to just show up.
Joining a rec league (where your team truly needs you to play) or a club
(that’s small enough for everyone to know each other’s names) also makes it
harder to bail when you’re not in the mood. Image credit: iStock
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com
Image credit: iStock