Part of staying active for me is my solo run in Central Park. The other day, I passed an older gentleman who was jogging the same route, and when he passed me, he paused, turned, and gestured playfully to keep it up. “Come on, come on,” he said. “Don’t rest yet!”
He stayed there, jogging in place, as if he were waiting for me…so I picked up the pace! Maybe I was afraid of letting him or myself down or looking weak, but who cares. It worked. I’ll never forget it.
This wasn’t a fluke: Whether it’s an accountability partner or a whole fitness community, the social aspect of exercise is scientifically proven to enhance your chances of meeting your fitness goals by providing a combination of competition, accountability, and support that almost ensures success. In fact, a study from Indiana University showed that over the course of one year, married couples who worked out together had a 6.3 percent dropout rate, as opposed to married people who worked out separately with a dropout rate of—wait for it—43 percent. Almost half!
Here are five ways to find support and reach your fitness goals.
1. Pick the right partner: Sometimes the best way to build a consistent routine is to pair up with someone from home. It’s much harder to ghost on your workout partner if you’re going to have to face that person before bed. You’re likely to be more familiar with each other’s schedules, supportive, and flexible. Plus, the encouragement you provide one another during your workout inevitably spills over into other aspects of your relationship.
A word of warning: It’s important to lay out ground rules about how you’ll tackle obstacles like pushing too hard or wanting to give up before you get started. Having a system in place in advance protects both your relationship and your ability to stick with your routine.
2. Don’t shy away from healthy competition: If you can, find support from someone you want to emulate. A Kansas State University study found that participants performed up to 200 percent better and longer when they were paired up with a workout partner who was in significantly better shape. This is thanks to the Köhler Effect, which suggests that not wanting to be the weakest link in a group setting pushes you to challenge yourself.
3. Find your tribe: Exercise classes can help you tap into a pre-existing fitness community and come in just about every flavor, whether it’s cardio, running, cycling, spinning, yoga, or even martial arts. Find one you enjoy and put it on your calendar like you would any other obligation. If you can pay for the class in advance, even better—it’s a lot harder to skip a workout when there’s money on the line! Don’t knock recreational sports either; softball, kickball, and touch football leagues can be a great option if you thrive on teams and would rather play a game than do an exercise class. As someone who joined a touch football league for the first time ever as an adult, I can say that it’s a fantastic way to make exercise fun and feel connected to a group.
4. Ask for accountability: Studies out of Stanford University have found that simply receiving a motivational phone call every other week can boost the amount of exercise you do by up to 78 percent. In one study, participants who received the check-in calls were still exercising at the increased level even after 18 months. To keep yourself accountable, have a trusted friend or family member periodically ask you how much you exercised in the past week, what your plan is for the following week, and encourage you to stay on track.
5. Tap into your (social) network: Posting about fitness on social media is an easy and accessible way to give or get inspiration to move. A study of over 1 million runners found that when participants used an app where their friends could see the details of their runs (and vice versa), they ran longer and further than when they stayed away from social media. No matter who you are, there is an online fitness community for you. Just starting out? You can find easy, healthy recipes and basic workouts on Pinterest. Working mom? There are over 17 million #fitmom posts on Instagram. No gym membership? There are dozens of apps out there with at-home programs. Allow yourself to be inspired by others’ progress and keep your focus on self-improvement, not self-comparison.
Terri Trespicio is an award-winning writer, speaker, and a long-time media expert on health and well-being. She was one of the early contributors to meQuilibrium, and her work has been featured on Dr. Oz, Oprah magazine, Prevention, and MindBodyGreen, among others. Find her on Twitter @TerriT.