Getting Your Spouse or Partner to Exercise

How to Encourage Healthy Behaviors in Your Loved Ones

Couple stretching in the park
How can you encourage your partner to exercise?. Peathegee Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

If there's one thing we've learned about marriage, it's this: You're not in charge of what the other person does. I know...ridiculous, isn't it? After all, you're married to this person for the rest of your life...shouldn't he or she do what you want them to do?

This kind of thinking often causes problems, especially when it comes to exercise. It can be tough on a relationship when one person is active and the other person isn't.

If you're the exerciser, you worry about the other person's weight along with their health, mortality, and stress levels. If you're the non-exerciser, you may feel guilty all the time for not being as active as the other person.

Even if you and your partner have different opinions on the necessity of exercise, there are a number of ways in which you can offer encouragement.

Encouraging Healthy Behaviors in Your Partner

In marriage or other long term relationships, one of the things you learn over time is that you simply can't force another person to do something they don't want to do. And that is a good thing. In order to have the best relationship possible, you both need to have your own thoughts and opinions and be autonomous people! Aggressive communication is the wrong approach.

At the same time, you do have a right to nudge your partner in the right direction when it comes to his or her health and well-being.

After all, the health of your partner matters to you as well. Whether it is wanting your partner healthy and alive, or just longing for a loved one who can enjoy exercise and healthy living beside you, you do have a vested interest.

Let's look at some ways in which you can nudge your partner to be a bit healthier.

Be a Good Role Model

Nagging your partner into exercise, as fun as that may be, usually backfires. But focusing on your own healthy behaviors may encourage your partner to do the same. It surprising how often people make a change after the begging stops. It may have something to do with that autonomy mentioned above. Even as young children we didn't like being told what to do, and as adults it can rub us the wrong way.

Being a role model releases you from having to say a word, and it works. A study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine found that having a partner who is physically active raised the odds by a factor of five that the other person would become more physically active as well.

Use Gentle Encouragement

Using gentle, non-demanding encouragement is often the best way to proceed. What is an example of gentle encouragement?

Plan after dinner walks, something that is not only a healthy activity but forces you to leave the screens behind and reconnect after a long day. Or perhaps you can invite your partner to the gym to show her how things work. Just offering a strings-free invitation may be enough to get reluctant spouses moving.

Make it Fun

Sometimes shouting, "Hey, let's go run 10 miles," just isn't going to work.

Activities that seem less like exercise, however, such as a bike ride, tennis game, or a walk in the park may be more appealing. Make it about spending time together and having fun rather than about exercise.

Double the Good

If you are like normal couples, chances are that one of you has, at times, carried the brunt of housework. If your partner who is leery to exercise is the one who does more housework you may have a challenge on your hands. After all, housework is a form of exercise. If you're looking for ideas to either free your partner up to have time to exercise, or get this kind of exercise yourself, check out the family chores that promote fitness.

Be Honest

Rather than getting angry about your spouse's annoying habit of being his or her own person, try talking about what's really bothering you. Perhaps you're worried about his health or you want a better future. Maybe you simply want to understand why he is so against exercise. Your partner may have reasons you're not even aware of, that are interfering with desire or ability to exercise. Being aware of those reasons not only allows you to be more sympathetic to his side of the story, but can improve the depth of your communication as well. Take the time to listen.

Reasons to Encourage Your Partner to Be Healthy

We don't need to rehash the benefits of eating healthy and exercising. A few minutes with nearly any magazine is a reminder that these are important. Although we hear less about the benefits of healthy living on a spouse, it's very important. Studies are telling us that having a healthy long-term relationship has a positive impact on medical conditions from cancer to heart disease. As part of being honest, as noted above, you can share your own hidden fears about the health of your loved one. Just make sure to do this gently. Threatening your partner by saying your health is at stake if he doesn't start running with you every day probably won't cut it. If anything, your partner will find this aggravating enough that he will do the opposite just to let you know he won't be manipulated. If you share your fear about how his health might impact yours, make sure to do it in a gentle and loving manner.

Bottom Line on Encouraging Your Spouse or Partner to Exercise

Many people want to encourage their partner to exercise, but simply demanding that they live a healthier lifestyle isn't the best option. Perhaps the best, and very effective method, is by simply being a good role model yourself. Offering gentle encouragement and coming up with fun ways to exercise is helpful as well. If your partner is reluctant to exercise, make sure to take time to listen not just lecture. Couples that exercise together are often healthier together, but tact, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to listen are imperative if you hope to have your partner join you in this quest.

Source:

Wardle, J., Steptoe, A., and S. Jackson. The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change. The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015. 175(3):385-92.

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