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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Becoming fit is easier when partners work together

Sarah Rasmi describes how exercising with a partner will improve your health and fitness this year
Regular aerobic exercise is the key to better physical and mental health. Antonie Robertson / The National
Regular aerobic exercise is the key to better physical and mental health. Antonie Robertson / The National

Many of us are thinking about our goals for this new year. Getting more exercise is one of the most common resolutions that people make. And for good reason: people who engage in regular aerobic exercise are happier, healthier – physically and psychologically – and live longer than those who do not.

Unfortunately, many of us will struggle to accomplish our goal of a fitter and healthier 2017. The question is: why is it so difficult to stay motivated when we know that exercise is key to good health? And, more importantly, what can we do to stay motivated?

The answer may surprise you: it’s your partner. Research shows that working out with your significant other boosts your motivation, your achievements and even your relationship.

For many of us, something always seems to get in the way of an exercise session. We don’t have enough time, we are too tired from a long day, we aren’t in the mood … the list is endless. But these aren’t reasons, they are excuses that interfere with achieving our exercise goals.

The good news is that our partners can help us overcome this obstacle. Generally, we are more willing to make and accept excuses for our own behaviour. We are less forgiving of other people’s excuses.

You can use this to your advantage by making a pact with your partner that you won’t accept each other’s excuses. Instead, you will push each other to get up and get going. Sometimes, we set ourselves up for failure.

We start the year feeling optimistic, and even overconfident, in our abilities and goals. For example, we believe that we can go from being sedentary to running 10 kilometres simply because we have done that in the past. Unfortunately, goals like this are unrealistic for most of us.

Failing to meet our target early on can lead us to give up altogether. We are much more likely to succeed by setting reasonable, graded goals – say, working our way up from 5km to 10km over a few weeks. Your partner knows you best; let them use this inside knowledge to help you shape your goals. Promise each other that you won’t feel offended when they suggest that your goal might be too lofty.

Another major obstacle to achieving fitness goals is working out alone. We are less likely to follow through when we are by ourselves, especially when we have set unrealistic goals and start to feel tired a few minutes into our workout session.

On the other hand, many of us will push through – even speed up – if people are watching. This happens because we want to save face and look capable in front of our peers. This is especially true when we have a friendly competition with our partner, as we know that giving up will signal defeat.

Your partner can also help by supporting you when you start to feel tired and demotivated. Sometimes, having someone cheer us on is the push that we need to finish our activity.

Working out together can even make your relationship stronger by improving your physical attraction to each ­other.

People who work out together often mirror each other’s behaviour. For example, you and your partner might run, lift weights or swim together. This kind of physical mirroring can actually strengthen your emotional bond, which is a key aspect of relationship satisfaction.

In summary, regular aerobic exercise is the key to better physical and mental health. Working out with your partner can make you more likely to meet your goals while also strengthening your relationship.

So, lace up your running shoes, grab your partner, and start your race towards a healthier and fitter 2017.

Dr Sarah Rasmi is a psychologist and professor at United Arab Emirates University

On Twitter: @DrSarahRasmi