When talking it through or going on a traditional date night isn’t working, it might be time to try something new: Sweat it out together. According to research, exercising with your partner can help you reconnect.
How exercising with your partner helps your relationship
Working out as a duo offers a lot more than just something to do together. Science shows there are several very particular benefits that come along with a fitness-focused date.
The endocannabinoids can drive connection
When you exercise, a brain chemical called “endocannabinoids” is released, which makes you feel happy, optimistic, and at ease. While you may hear this concept described as a “runner’s high,” any type of physical movement will work (*breathes a sigh of relief*). When you’re sweating together, those positive feelings will extend to your partner, helping you feel closer—and you’ll feel more relationship satisfaction overall, according to one study.
And guess what? Exercise can also drive connection by making you want to hop in the sheets with your partner. “[It] has a great impact on sexual health with relationships due to [an] increase in blood circulation, which leads to better arousal,” explains Shah Hasan, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Thriveworks in Sterling, Virginia, who specializes in relationship issues, sexual identity, divorce, and separation.
Working on fitness goals can help you meet relationship goals
Exercise brings up many of the same topics as relationships: overcoming hurdles, finding motivation, building trust, problem-solving, and more. When you address those in the realm of working out, doing so in your relationship can become easier.
“Not only does exercise help decrease anxiety and depression, but it can also help both partners set goals that they can achieve together, and feel connected, and increase bonding,” Hasan says. He explains goal-setting can help with problem-solving, “such as finding a time to work out together in your already busy and sometimes different schedules, showing that each partner is making time for the other and building trust and love within the relationship.”
Hasan adds exercise also presents a challenge you two can feel united over and excited about, whether that's completing a half-marathon or bench-pressing more weight than you ever have before.
Exercising with another person increases the joy we get from moving
As mentioned above, endorphins from exercise can give us a natural “high.” But when done with a partner, those feelings of bonding and closeness are heightened—especially as your heart rate increases.
If you prefer a less intense type of exercise, however, that’s okay, too. Even breathing together in a group yoga class can be beneficial. Physical movement with someone else is one of the most influential ways we can experience joy. In fact, athletes who move together in synchrony—such as dancers and rowers—report a higher pain tolerance. According to a study, synchrony can lead to greater cooperation and closer clustering with others, too.
The best ways to connect through exercise
Wondering if a certain exercise is most helpful? While it's up to whatever you and your partner enjoy most, Hasan does have two specific recommendations: walking and lifting weights.
“Walking is a method of exercise [where] you can actually enjoy your surroundings and are able to have conversations without getting too tired,” he explains. “This helps train us to slow down from time to time to hear our partner, talk about our days, and help with any issues they may be struggling with.”
Walking doesn’t have to be boring, either—you can go explore a new area or park with your partner, or bring your pet along with you.
When it comes to strength training, lifting weights has a very particular benefit: spotting. Hasan says you and your partner “can build on a metaphor of ‘spotting’ each other when life gets heavy, such as spotting our partner when the weights may be heavy to help support and provide assistance as needed.”
Try doing this arms and abs strength workout together:
Do you need to work out as a pair every day to improve your relationship? Probably not.
Hasan says the Mayo Clinic suggests 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week to reap the physical benefits of exercise, but how often you work out together depends on your and your partner’s goals. “If the couple is wanting to use exercise as a means of emotionally connecting, then I would recommend a light 30-minute walk per day to just find some time to focus on each other and check in how each is doing,” he says. He emphasizes the importance of not feeling pressured to exercise more than you want, and you both having the motivation to make it work.
So, talk to your partner about your goals and preferences—both for exercise and your relationship—and then lace up those sneakers to get moving together.
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