There’s no doubt about the powerful benefits of exercise.
Still, most often, we think of the ways exercise can help us physically. However, exercise is a handy tool for bolstering your close relationships and boarder social wellness.
The many mental health benefits of exercise can help us foster connections with others and improve our relationships, especially when we exercise with our partners.
Be sure to read to the end to see our 7 tips for improving your relationships with exercise.
Here is how you can improve your relationship with exercise.
Exercise improves your relationships by lowering your stress and improving your mood. When we exercise, we release endorphins, or the body’s natural “feel good” hormones. The endorphins lower the effects of stress and anxiety¹.
The hormones produced from exercise make people feel happier, and this ultimately improves social engagement. One study found that exercise on one day leads to more positive social interactions into the next day². Exercise puts a smile on peoples’ faces, and smiling people are seen as more attractive³.
Another way exercise can improve your relationships is by inducing physiological arousal.
The symptoms of exercise, like sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and quickened heart rate, mirror the same arousal we experience with romantic attraction. A “Misattribution of arousal” study showed that arousal may occur when the arousal from exercise is interpreted as sexual arousal, and this may increase the feelings of attraction between you and your partner.
It’s impossible to cultivate substantial, healthy relationships with others if we do not have one with ourselves.
Exercise helps us to improve our self-image and confidence. The more we exercise, the more we tend to believe in ourselves⁵. People who exercise have higher levels of self- and body image than those who do not⁶.
Exercise is a form of self-care and can be a great source of alone time.
Daily life gets incredibly hectic; when we do not have enough of our own time to decompress, our relationships suffer. Exercise improves relationships by giving you time to focus on yourself.
When we exercise, blood flows to the same brain region associated with focus, concentration, goal-setting, time management, and clear thinking⁷. It will help clear your mind and think sensibly, which can help you avoid conflict with your partner and better approach your relationship.
Exercise improves the relationships you already have, but it can also help you find new positive ones.
You can meet more people through exercise classes, and you’ll be able to attract the right people no matter where you go when you are more confident.
For many people, exercise removes the barriers that keep us from making new connections and building new relationships. Even as a couple, you may be able to meet other like-minded couples.
Exercising as individuals can improve your relationship, but the benefits compound when you exercise together. For one, when you exercise together, you are spending time together and supporting each other. However, the benefits of exercising as a couple go much deeper than that.
For one, exercising with someone else is more enjoyable than exercising alone⁸ Even when the person is a stranger, it is more fun than doing so alone. Exercising with your partner is one way to make the event more enjoyable for both of you. You can also do it with friends, family, or anyone else you want to strengthen a relationship with.
Engaging in new or exciting activities with your partner will improve your relationship quality⁹. Arousing activities, like exercise, have a beneficial effect on relationships that’s different from mundane daily activities.
Exercise will also help boost your emotional bond through coordinated actions and mimicry. When you exercise with someone else, you must coordinate your actions. The synchronization of movements is a form of nonverbal mimicry. A 2010 study by Stel and Vonk found that mimicry can make people feel more emotionally connected and bonded with each other¹⁰.
Another result of the synchronization and arousal of exercise are feelings of cohesion and cooperation¹¹. The best relationships are a partnership, where conflict is an outside threat that both people must work together to overcome. By increasing cooperation and connection between people, exercise can help them tackle obstacles better while staying in each other’s corner.
While exercise improves relationships, including a partner improves the exercise. Not only is exercise more fun with someone else, but we also tend to work out for longer when we do it with someone else¹².
Exercising with someone else also provides accountability. You are a team working together; you encourage each other and push each other much further than either party could do alone. According to a study of married couples, those who joined the gym together worked out more and dropped out less often over one year than married individuals who joined the gym alone¹³.
Ultimately, exercising with a partner can help you achieve your fitness goals. A recent study found that when wives provided more supportive health-related comments, average-weight husbands exercised more¹⁴. Sharing the ups and downs of exercise creates an opportunity for those kinds of comments and can help both parties reach their fitness goals. While we still must have internal motivation and discipline, a supportive partner working toward something similar can undoubtedly help.
Exercise has so many essential benefits, and one that’s often overlooked is how much exercise improves relationships. By boosting our mood, reducing stress, increasing arousal, and fostering a stronger bond, exercise serves as a valuable tool for our social wellness. As they say, couples who exercise together stay together.
(1) Jackson, EM (May-June 2013) FACSM STRESS RELIEF
(2) Young, KC; Machell, KA; Kashdan, TB; Westwater, ML (2018)
The cascade of positive events: Does exercise on a given day increase the frequency of additional positive events?
(5) McAuley, E; Elavsky, S; Motl, RW; Konopack, JF; Hu, L; Marquez, DX (September 2005) Physical Activity, Self-Efficacy, and Self-Esteem: Longitudinal Relationships in Older Adults
(6) Zamani Sani SH; Fathirezaie Z; Brand S; et al. (October 2016) Physical activity and self-esteem: testing direct and indirect relationships associated with psychological and physical mechanisms
(7) Harvard Health Publishing (April 2014) Boost your thinking skills with exercise
(8) Plante, TG; Coscarelli, L; Ford, M (July 2001) Does Exercising with Another Enhance the Stress-Reducing Benefits of Exercise?
(9) Aron, A; Norman, CC; Aron, EN; McKenna, C; Heyman, RE (February 2000) Couples' shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality
(10) Stel, M; Vonk, R (May 2010) Mimicry in social interaction: benefits for mimickers, mimickees, and their interaction
(11) Jackson, JC; Jong, J; Bilkey, D. et al. (January 2018) Synchrony and Physiological Arousal Increase Cohesion and Cooperation in Large Naturalistic Groups
(12) Irwin, BC; Scorniaenchi, J; Kerr, NL. et al. (October 2012) Aerobic Exercise Is Promoted when Individual Performance Affects the Group: A Test of the Kohler Motivation Gain Effect
(13) Wallace, JP; Raglin, JS; Jastremski, CA (September 1995) Twelve month adherence of adults who joined a fitness program with a spouse vs without a spouse
(14) Skoyen, JA; Blank, E; Corkery, SA; Butler, EA (December 2013). The interplay of partner influence and individual values predicts daily fluctuations in eating and physical activity