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Does Running Improve Romantic Relationships?

Couples who run together report having more sex.

Key points

  • Men and women with faster half marathon times have longer ring fingers than index fingers, a sign of higher levels of testosterone.
  • Those who author positive posts on social media are often judged as more confident, but ultimately less attractive.
  • One of the major predictors of compatibility in relationships is similarity between partners.
Martin Graff
Man running
Source: Martin Graff

Many avid runners (including myself) run for enjoyment and for the purpose of staying fit. However, we may also ponder the romantic impact of running. Does running make us feel and act more romantically? Obviously, we runners think that it does. Before discussing the romantic aspects of running, let's first look at how running may make us look and feel more attractive.

Attraction and running

In terms of male body shape, generally, a V-shaped body shape is perceived as being most attractive in men—that is, broader shoulders and a thinner waist. In our ancestral past, men with good upper body strength indicated in a V-shaped body could acquire and defend resources successfully, and thus were seen as more attractive to women.

However, such a body shape is not necessarily found in men who run. Ancestral men also engaged in "persistence hunting"—exhausting prey by tirelessly tracking it. Men who could successfully do this and provide food would also have been desirable to women. In modern days this is perhaps signaled by being able to run a long distance such as a marathon. An upright running gait or posture is also a signal of attractiveness in men. An upright gait and posture indicate good core strength and good muscle tone. A non-upright gait is generally a sign of age.

Men who have a longer ring finger compared to their index finger are more likely to have higher levels of testosterone. In fact, one study has shown that 10 percent of men with the most masculine finger ratios (ring to index fingers) were, on average, about 24 minutes faster than 10 percent of men with the least masculine finger ratios. Overall, both men and women with faster half marathon times have longer ring fingers than index fingers.

Attractiveness in runners may also be due to how they are perceived. We see runners described as winners, warriors, or heroes, who have the grit and determination to keep on going, and battle through adversity to run a long distance. Again, such tenacity, perseverance, and the mental strength to not give up would have been perceived as indicative of being able to provide for and defend resources in our evolutionary past.

Curiously, there is one study that has shown that men are judged to be more attractive to women when they are carrying a sports bag than when they are not carrying a sports bag, suggesting that the mere outward indication that a man may play sports makes him attractive.

In mate selection generally, it is generally incumbent on men to be attractive to women. Having said that, around 50 percent of men think that women who run have better health and are likely to bear healthy offspring. Furthermore, 35 percent of men judge women who run to be attractive.

Social media posting

Martin Graff
Social media post
Source: Martin Graff

Running also triggers the release of neurochemicals such as dopamine. People often report feeling a "runner’s high," which makes us feel good about ourselves, and ultimately leads to a positive self-image, which in turn leads to greater feelings of confidence.

However, if this confidence entices us to post our successes on social media, then we might ask whether this makes you more attractive. The answer generally is a categorical "no!" People who self-author positive posts on social media are generally judged as more confident, but ultimately it does not make them more attractive.

Running and relationships

One of the major predictors of compatibility in relationships is similarity between partners. So, it is likely that couples who meet at running clubs or on dating sites catering to a common interest in running may be more compatible partners. However, in more established relationships 50 percent of couples report never running together, with only about 25 percent ever training together.

More optimistically, some couples often choose "run themed weddings" where they may use a start line to symbolise the start of their married life together or replace the first dance with a gentle 5K run or choose to embark on a running themed honeymoon.

Do runners make good lovers?

Runners probably know the answer to this already. Runners tend to have better cardiovascular efficiency and a stronger sex drive. For this reason, ancestral men who could run a long way and had superior physical endurance, would be more likely to be chosen as mating partners. Runners also have better breathing techniques and better body awareness, which translates into an awareness of what makes them feel good. Slightly over half of men and just under half of women report that their sex lives improved after they started running, with couples who run together reporting having more sex.

We haven’t discussed running themed romantic poetry or whether running makes us behave in a more romantic way. However, in addition to making us fitter and healthier, running undoubtedly improves our sex lives and makes us more attractive.

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