Michael Mantell by Michael Mantell

Sure, we know that not having enough time, money or self-confidence keep many people away from the gym. But did you know that, according to a recent survey by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) conducted in the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and in the Boston areas, 48 percent of people said their spouse or partner did not support regular gym attendance and sticking to fitness goals.

What? Your relationship isn’t supportive of you working out, getting healthy, looking fit and feeling great? And worse, you and your spouse/partner are in a constant state of battle over this? Hmmm. We better look into this before a relationship disaster—or a health crisis—occurs. There’s hope for sure!

Conflict in a relationship where there isn’t unconditional acceptance of self, of the other and of one’s life’s circumstances leads to stress, anxiety, depression and anger. In fact, chronic conflict and stress in a relationship can lead to an elevated risk of poor health—as much as physical inactivity and smoking do. Obesity, immune system disruptions, high blood sugar, low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), hypertension and abdominal obesity (the “bad” obesity), especially for women, are more frequent when there’s chronic relationship conflict and disagreement.

So when nearly 50 percent of people believe their spouses are not supportive of their desire to exercise, at least in a gym, the situation is ripe for those couples to experience antagonism, guilt, anger, resentment, feeling held back or left out, being pressured, not feeling satisfied and worried about the future of the relationship. Sounds like a lot of stress to me. And that can have seriously deleterious effects on your health—just the opposite of what you hope to achieve through exercise!

Couples who support each other’s working out, and even work out together, find improved health in their relationship and are able to work out conflict more easily. A healthy body and a healthy relationship are like one flesh.

Want to fire up your romance? Want to tighten your emotional bond with each other? Want to help your partner fall more deeply in love with you? There’s enough research to fill up gigabytes of space showing that working out leaves couples feeling more attractive, having more energy, feeling increased sexual desire and responsiveness, and finding improved sexual performance, regardless of age. Furthermore, couples who support each other’s working out, and often exercise together, are more committed to each other’s fitness and health, and are more likely to stick with their own exercise programs, according to a study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.

Here are some key steps to keeping your heart pumping when you're in love:

1. Ask your spouse if he or she understands why you exercise. Listen to what he or she thinks is the reason you want to pop up early and get out to exercise. Perhaps he or she has some erroneous beliefs about being left out, “You just want to be away from me,” or “You just can’t stand being with me.” Explain that working out is a part of your goal to take care of yourself to ensure you live a long, healthy life together. Invite your partner to join you.

2. If your partner won’t work out with you in a gym, perhaps find other ways to be active together. This might include more vigorous and fun-inducing housework, yard work, shopping, a walk in the park, a bike ride or an activity he or she proposes. Don’t compromise, but agree on a third, new position, that’s more about consensus—something you both enjoy doing.

3. Agree not to nag your partner about not working out if he or she doesn’t nag you about taking time to exercise.

4. Watch out for relying on your spouse or partner too much to reach your fitness goals. Fitzsimons and Finkel (2011) found that relying on “outsourcing” too much weakens your own self-motivation to achieve your goals.

5. Make a workout “date” with a slate of cooperative exercises that rely on each other and leave the gym not only sweaty, but with endorphins adding spice and spirit to your relationship. These exercises may include side-by-side cardio, group fitness classes, stretching each other, and spotting for each other while doing resistance training. You’ll find increased pride and respect, greater interest in each other’s wellbeing, enhanced communication and overall improved quality time.

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