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Why Couples Should Work Out Together

Exercising as a couple may boost mood and relationship satisfaction.

Key points

  • Exercise has many mental and physical health benefits. Nevertheless, many people struggle to find the motivation to exercise.
  • Research suggests exercising together with one’s romantic partner may improve mood and increase relationship satisfaction.
  • Exercising with one’s romantic partner may help make exercise more enjoyable, which can make it easier to maintain a workout routine.
CHENA/Pixabay
Source: CHENA/Pixabay

Whether it is attending a concert, watching a movie, or just going for a walk, people in love enjoy doing things together. Indeed, romantic couples love discovering shared goals, interests, or hobbies—e.g., traveling, becoming lifelong learners, achieving financial independence, or living a healthy lifestyle.

Could engaging in these activities together have additional benefits, in terms of increased happiness and relationship satisfaction?

Yes. In fact, a recent study has found there are benefits to exercising together. The research, conducted by Sackett-Fox and colleagues, was published in the November 2021 issue of Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. It found that individuals who work out together with their romantic partner experience better mood during exercise, better mood during the day, and higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

Investigating the benefits of exercising with a romantic partner

Data came from a sample of 95 undergraduates who were in a romantic relationship and who exercised on a somewhat regular basis (two to three times a week). Most were white (94 percent) and female (91 percent), with an average age of 20.3 years (range of 18 to 35 years) and relationship length of 1.9 years (range of two weeks to 6.3 years).

Measures included an online survey, tasks in the laboratory, daily reports for two weeks, and additional questions at the end of the investigation.

Overall, 1,049 nightly surveys were completed (79 percent completion rate), 568 of which occurred on the same day as the day the participants had exercised. On average, participants exercised without their romantic partner on 4.7 days but with their romantic partner on 1.3 days.

Aside from questions about daily exercise, the following were also investigated:

  • Emotions during exercise: happy, good, pleasant, unhappy, bad, or unpleasant.
  • Daily mood: same descriptors as above.
  • Relationship satisfaction: agreement, on a seven-point scale, with the item, “Today, I was satisfied with my relationship.”

Potential benefits of exercising with a romantic partner

The results showed that compared to exercising without a romantic partner (e.g., exercising alone, with friends, with strangers), exercising together with a romantic partner had a number of positive effects.

Exercising together with a romantic partner was associated with greater positive mood during exercise—beyond the happiness boost that results from the exercise itself—and it correlated with higher positive mood (but not reduced negative mood) during the day. Lastly, it was related to greater relationship satisfaction.

Why relationship satisfaction? Perhaps because couples who work out together are engaging in an activity both enjoy and value. For example, exercise helps them make progress toward health goals, such as maintaining an active lifestyle.

What mechanisms might explain the improvements in mood that result from exercising with a romantic partner? These likely involve support, particularly emotional and social support.

Sometimes, however, the apparent support is more of a social control strategy. For example, an individual who accompanies his or her significant other to the gym could be consciously trying to encourage their partner to exercise more frequently.

This social control strategy, the authors note, may involve positive social control attempts, like “providing encouragement, or making it easier for the partner to engage in exercise by going together and planning events that take exercise time into account.” Using negative social control attempts “such as pressuring them or making them feel guilty,” however, might “backfire and instead result in less exercise.”

There were some unexpected findings in the present study. For instance, exercising with a romantic partner did not reduce negative mood and unhappiness. The authors speculate this was due to a floor effect, meaning the levels of negative mood in the sample were low enough already, so the presence of a romantic partner could not have reduced negative emotions any further. In addition, a reduction in negative mood might have been easier to detect in more vigorous and high-intensity exercise routines, which are often experienced as more unpleasant, compared to low- or moderate-intensity exercise.

xinhui/Pixabay
Source: xinhui/Pixabay

Building a healthy relationship with exercise

If you lack the motivation to exercise, consider the following three points: First, previous research shows exercise has numerous physical health and mental health benefits (e.g., better memory, pain relief, improved erectile dysfunction).

Second, regardless of the type of physical activity (e.g., jogging, hiking, dancing, tennis) or its goal (e.g., weight loss, becoming fit, diabetes management), exercise itself can be enjoyable. This is particularly true of engaging in the right intensity and frequency of the type of physical activity that excites you. So, find your passion, whether it is yoga, walking in nature, kayaking, horseback riding, etc. Do what you love because the pleasure of the activity provides the motivation to begin the exercise and to continue.

Realistically, of course, you are not always able to engage in the type of exercise you enjoy the most. Due to weather, financial concerns, lack of time, or other factors, you may settle for whatever exercises are available, be it indoor cycling at the gym, going for a run, or just exercising at home. Worse yet, there will be times when you feel so stressed, anxious, depressed, or emotionally exhausted that you lack the motivation or mental energy to go to the gym or even exercise at home. How to motivate yourself to exercise at such times?

This brings us to our third point: One way to motivate yourself is to exercise with your significant other. The research reviewed suggests exercising with one’s romantic partner or spouse is associated with better mood during the exercise session and throughout the day, as well as higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

From a psychological perspective, times of stress are often the very times when exercise will be particularly beneficial and help us cope more effectively with our problems. The emotional and relationship benefits of spending the time together with our loved ones—in addition to the pleasures and physical health and mental health benefits of exercise itself—may help us not only cope more effectively with our stressors but also build and maintain a healthy intimate relationship.

Facebook image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

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