Love can make us do unhealthy things. Like sharing a pint of ice cream after dinner or polishing off a bottle of wine on a weeknight. (Remember that 6 a.m. spin class tomorrow?) Sure, it can do many wondrous things for your health, like reduced stress and increased longevity, but your relationship status can also put your fitness routine and healthy eating diet in the backseat.
“When you start dating someone and you’re really into them, all you want to do is spend time together,” says Mike Donavanik, celebrity trainer at Crunch Gym, Equinox and Barry’s Bootcamp. “That often involves eating and drinking, and little action besides action between the sheets. Everything else becomes less of a priority.”
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Research has proven this to be true, linking coupledom to a higher body mass index. In fact, marital status is only second to age as a predictor of how likely a person is to be overweight or obese, says a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology.
Luckily, you can fight the love chub together, says Jessica Matthews, M.S., senior advisor for health and fitness education for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). While it’s easy to fall into a pattern of extravagant dinners and endless happy hours, Matthews says, “individuals might notice an improvement in their well-being and fitness.” Matthew adds, “They’re able to embrace some of the healthful habits of their significant other that they weren’t doing (or doing consistently) before dating.”
Here’s how to harness to power of your honey to boost your health.
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1. Be “that” couple.
The couple that sweats together stays together. And don’t worry, matching tracksuits aren’t necessary. “Take the opportunity to get to know one another better by immersing yourselves in each other’s interests,” Matthews says. Love yoga? Invite your partner to get down(ward dog) with you at the next class. In return, you can tag along for your sweetie’s spin class. “Even if the class is a beast, it’s helpful to know that you’re struggling — and hopefully overcoming — the hardest parts together,” Donavanik adds. If you’re training for a race, invite your other half to join you on your short runs or HIIT circuits. Better yet, turn it into a game: See how many of your partner’s workouts you can hit by the end of the month, and let the winner pick a calorie-free prize.
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2. Share the love when you eat out.
Treating your date to dinner on the town is generous, but considering the average sit-down restaurant meal is 1,128 calories, doing so with reckless abandon can make your pants feel much less, well, generously-tailored. “Instead of going out for a heavy dinner, seek out restaurants that offer smaller courses, but a lot of them,” Donavanik says. Think: tapas with lean meats, plenty of vegetables and hearty grains. “Share a few plates. This strategy allows you to eat a little slower because the courses are timed out, and it also allows you to enjoy the food and conversation more.” You’re more likely to feel satisfied and less stuffed than if you were to order your own heaping entree.
3. Cast yourselves on “Chopped,” couples edition.
Hit the supermarket together and select three to five “mystery ingredients” (without showing them to your opponent). Buy them, bag them and trade them the moment you walk into the kitchen. Then, set a timer and see how creative you can get in 30 minutes! The creator of the least successful plate tackles all the dishes. “Sharing awkward and new experiences really improves your bond,” Donavanik says. “There’s something uniquely special in trying something for the first time with someone you’re dating. Plus, it makes for great memories to look back on and share with friends.”
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4. Walk and talk.
“Outside of structured workouts, simply seeking out ways to add more movement to the things you are already doing together can help to keep your fitness front of mind,” Matthews suggests. Do you normally sit and chat over a cup of coffee on Saturday mornings? Take it to-go and walk around the neighborhood. “You’ll have time to catch up and get to know each other better while getting in some extra steps,” she says.
5. Embrace Mother Nature.
“Use the seasons and your geographical location to your advantage,” Matthews says. Stuck in snow? Try sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating or skiing. Near water? Give surfing, standup paddleboarding or kayaking a shot. Live close to mountains? “Make it a point to get some Instagram-worthy photos of the scenery by hiking together to a quiet spot, where you two can bond and bask in the beautiful sights,” Matthews says. All of these options encourage conversation and a solid workout. Bonus points for fitness feats that force you to work together, such as tandem kayaking or rock climbing.
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6. Get a puppy!
Because when are puppies not the answer? If you’re in a stable, committed relationship, taking care of a living thing will not only test your ability to co-parent, it’s get your out and about more, too. A study conducted at the National Cancer Institute found that dog owners walk an average of 19 minutes more per week than their pet-free peers. For a 150-pound person, that means 120 extra calories burned each week — or enough to offset that extra glass of wine.