That's right: Rose-petal bubble baths aren't actually the fastest route to romance, despite what dozens of romcoms would have us believe. “Even in long-term relationships, you can hack your brain to feel fluttery, in-love feelings with your partner by doing activities together that are novel, new, or even anxiety-provoking,” says Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, founder and clinical director at Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Broomfield, CO. (This immediately explains all those bungee-jumping dates on The Bachelorette.)
Activities like these aren't just about beating boredom—novelty stimulates the release of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in that top-of-the-world, skipping-through-the-streets, song-in-your-heart feeling of falling in love. “Dopamine keeps love fresh and new,” says Dr. Bobby. So it makes sense that if you want to keep that sensation alive, it's important to do things together that flood your brain with this feel-good chemical. The result: sustained attraction, inspiring conversation, and good memories.
Below are 10 unexpectedly romantic things to do if you want to bring on the dopamine—seriously, the new season of Stranger Things can wait.
1. Go stand-up paddle boarding
Stand-up paddle boarding not only is a killer core workout, but it’s also a test of balance and endurance—two key qualities for any good relationship. Chances are, you and your partner will be able to have a few (good-natured) laughs as the other falls off.
2. Ride a roller coaster
A tamer version of The Bachelorette's standard skydiving date is hitting up an amusement park to take on the coasters. (Come to think about it, they’ve done this on the show, too—who knew those producers were such experts in romantic things to do?) If you're afraid of heights, just remember there's funnel cake on the other side to reward your bravery.
3. Scale a mountain
Okay, what I'm actually saying is go to a local gym that has a rock wall and use a safety harness to climb. You’ll test your upper body strength and your trust in bae (if they’re holding the safety ropes on the ground). Plus, depending on how high you get, climbing can deliver the adrenaline rush of other extreme sports—just in a more controlled setting.
4. Crush a race together
Whether it’s a 5K or marathon, mark an upcoming race on your calendar. Training together and going after a common goal—and the glory of finishing—will deliver that runner's (and lover's) high. If that’s too much commitment, find a recreational running club and drop in for one of their scheduled runs. One idea: the November Project has chapters in cities across the country. Running with the group is free and all you have to do is show up.
5. Take a hike
If its available in your area, head to a designated hiking trail. On the way up, you two will be forced to overcome hurdles (#bonding) and at the top, it’ll offer breathtaking views. (Skip the perilous side-of-the-mountain selfie, please!) I’ll put in a plug for the trails in the Phoenix, AZ, area (like Camelback Mountain), which always serve as a test of teamwork between me and my hubs.
6. Serve up some love
Bring out your competitive side—and promise to be good sports about it—with a friendly tennis match. Singles tennis is a true cardio workout; if you’re out in the sun, things will heat up (including your feelings for your S.O.).
7. Sharpen your culinary skills
You might not be raising your heart rate as much as a fork to your mouth, but take a class and learn to cook together. You may never make pots de crème again, but you both may finally learn the right way to chop an onion and start cooking at home, something research shows is linked to a healthier diet.
8. Bring out the bikes
Maybe you haven't been on two wheels since childhood, but it’s time to get back on. Look to see what restaurants in your area are safely bike-able and pedal your way over to brunch or dinner. (Rest easy on the wine so you can still steer appropriately).
9. Walk a pup
No, this isn’t a call for you to get a dog together. Connect with a local animal shelter and see if they need volunteers to walk their dogs in the area. The pups get exercise, you do too, and everyone's happier in the end. Aside from the feel-good factor, this date idea could form the basis for a long and happy life together— research finds those who volunteer in order to help others are more likely to live to a ripe old age.
10. Practice your downward dog
Head to a yoga class. If either of you are newbies or nervous about starting a yoga practice, look for a community class at a local studio. These are often free or offered at a reduced, donation-only rate. If you're already seasoned yogis, get sweaty in a hot yoga class—a true test of mental, physical, and spiritual strength.
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