Getting Your Spouse or Partner to Exercise

Couple stretching in the park

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If there's one thing that's true for most relationships, it's this: You can't force someone to do something they don't want to do. Pushing too hard to influence another person's behavior often leads to problems, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like working out. Although you may have valid concerns about your loved one's well-being, there are right ways and wrong ways to address the issue.

If you're dedicated to living an active lifestyle and your partner isn't, don't let exercise become a cause of strain and resentment. Instead, take a positive and productive approach to support your partner and encourage healthy habits.

How to Promote Healthy Behaviors

Some partners are more receptive to taking advice from their friends and family than others. You know your spouse best. If they're the type to get defensive or rebel against a friendly reminder to work out, maybe you need to try a more subtle approach.

Let your partner know that you love and care about them. Invite them to participate in active events that don't feel like exercise (such as playing a game of tennis or going for a hike together). Instead of blaming your partner or making them feel bad about their choices, focus on acting as a positive influence. After all, no one wants to feel shamed or forced into exercise.

Be a Good Role Model

Nagging your partner to exercise is likely to backfire. Try focusing on your own behavior and wait to see whether this encourages your partner to do the same. Believe it or not, the simple act of being a good role model can have a big impact on the behavior of those around us.

A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that having a partner who is physically active raises the odds (by a factor of five) that the other person will become physically active as well. Instead of telling your partner what to do, motivate them by doing well for yourself.

Use Gentle Encouragement

A little positive nudging will usually get you further than reprimanding or demanding your spouse to exercise. Invite your loved one on an after-dinner walk, not only as a healthy activity but also as a way to connect and spend quality time together. Offer to bring your partner to the gym, but don't try to guilt them into going with you.

Make Exercise Fun

Traditional exercise isn't for everyone. Perhaps your spouse would prefer to go on a bike ride, play basketball, go swimming, or take a walk in the park. Choose physical activities that are more about having fun together than about exercising.

Double the Good

If your partner isn't motivated to go to the gym, they might enjoy other ways of being active, like gardening, house painting, or even washing the car. Housework and outdoor projects are a form of exercise that can benefit your body, your wallet, and your living space. Put on music, get some supplies, and work together on chores that promote fitness. You don't even have to call it "exercise."

Be Honest and Kind

Rather than getting angry or annoyed with your spouse for not exercising, try talking to them about what's really bothering you. Perhaps you're worried about their health, and you want to live a long and happy life together. Maybe you want to understand what's truly holding them back from taking better care of themselves.

Your partner may have underlying reasons that interfere with their desire or ability to exercise. Depression, stress, low self-esteem, or physical limitations could be holding them back. Understanding the root cause allows you to be more sympathetic and will improve your communication with each other. Take time to listen. You might be surprised about what you learn.

How Exercise Benefits Your Relationship

Everyone knows that healthy eating and exercise are good for us as individuals. However, we hear less about how exercising can benefit our relationship with our spouse.

By remaining active as we get older, we're better able to keep up with our partner. If your partner has dreams of traveling the world, or raising grandchildren together, you'll want to be in the best shape possible to enjoy the memories to come.

While exercise can't safeguard against every possible illness, it does a lot of good to boost our mood and help us stay mobile. Partners owe it to each other to take care of their health.

A Word From Verywell

Many people want to their partner to exercise more or make healthier choices, but simply demanding that they change isn't the best option. Perhaps the most effective plan is to be a good role model yourself. If your partner is reluctant to exercise, make sure to take time to listen; don't lecture.

Couples who exercise together are often healthier and happier. Find fun ways to develop good habits as a team rather than making exercise feel like work.

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  1. Wardle J, Steptoe A, Jackson S. The influence of partner’s behavior on health behavior change: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(3):385-392. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554