There are numerous benefits of a workout partner. You know that when you and your partner wash dishes together after a big meal, the kitchen gets clean that much faster. Teamwork has the same payoff when it comes to weight loss and healthy living, too.
“When we studied the drop-out rate of a year-long fitness program, we found that couples who entered the program together had only an eight percent drop-out rate, as compared with roughly 50 percent of the people who entered the program alone,” says John Raglin, Ph.D, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University, who conducted the study. “And we’ve found that you get similar results whether you’re working with a spouse, a friend, or within a group.” Similarly, an Australian study found that married couples participating in a 16-week fitness program were much more likely to eat well and exercise consistently than couples who didn’t participate in the program.
These studies lend credence to something you likely already knew: The support you get from a partner or spouse can be invaluable when it comes to achieving your goals. “We all know that eating well and exercising is good for you, but oftentimes, that’s just not enough reason to motivate,” explains Raglin. “Committing to other people, however — whether it’s by agreeing to meet to work out, or just to stick to similar goals — gives you the accountability you need to make it happen.” Here’s how to make it work for you:
How to pick the right partner
Your best friend may be great for late night phone chats, but she might not necessarily be your ideal fitness buddy. “You need to find someone who has similar goals, similar obstacles, and the willingness to commit,” says Susan Rudnicki, Ph.D, a clinical health psychologist and personal trainer. When choosing someone to team up with, first identify what stands in your way the most. Is it making time to exercise? Or sticking to your Weight Watchers plan? Then figure out how a partner can help you. “If you’re trying to stop your late night snacking habit, talk to your spouse about keeping only healthy foods at home,” says Adam Shafran, Ph.D, author of You Can’t Lose Weight Alone: The Partner Power Weight Loss Program. “If you’re struggling to find time to work out with your busy work schedule, maybe you have a co-worker who is interested in taking lunchtime power walks with you.”
Weight Watchers meetings are a great place to find a good match, says Rudnicki. “Keep an eye out for someone who has a really positive attitude, who doesn’t get discouraged at weigh-ins, and who seems like she’ll be encouraging without being too competitive,” says Rudnicki. “Ask first if she’s interested in getting together once or twice to work out or to discuss fitness goals, and then see if you can transform it into something more long-term.”
Come up with a game plan
Before you embark on a fitness regimen, it’s important to identify your goals. “Commit to working out a certain number of times a week, whether it’s together or separately,” says Rudnicki. “If you don’t work out together, check in weekly by phone or email to make sure that you’re meeting your obligation.” If you’re struggling to stick to your plan, daily emails with a Weight Watchers friend can help you pass on that plate of cookies at your office. “If you have to check-in with your partner, you’re a lot less likely to cheat,” says Shafran. Whatever excuses you may tell yourself – you’re having a rough day, you’ll exercise tomorrow instead – just won’t fly with your partner.
“Don’t be afraid to team up with multiple people,” says Rudnicki. “Maybe you have one friend who gets you to Zumba class, but it’s another who helps you make the lifestyle changes you need, plus your spouse who gets you out of bed to exercise when all you want to do is hit the snooze button.”
Keep it positive
“This isn’t The Biggest Loser,” says Rudnicki. “Teaming up with someone should make getting fit more fun, not make you feel more frustrated.” If your partner is having an easier time meeting her goals, use it as motivation. “Say, ‘I’d love to share some of your success – how about if we add an extra workout day to our regimen?’” says Shafran. “Remember, this is a long-term commitment and if you keep at it with your buddy, you’ll achieve similar results.”
If, however, your partner starts to get jealous of your success, you may need to have a frank talk. “Unfortunately, we sometimes see people try and sabotage their partner,” says Shafran. “In that case, I usually suggest talking to them about how important it is for you to meet your goals, how much it means to your health and happiness, and why you’re hoping that they’ll stick with it.” If that doesn’t work, you may need to find a new partner. “It can be tricky in the case of a spouse, but I recommend finding a friend who can give you the support you’re not getting at home,” says Shafran.