When my husband Franck and I met, we both enjoyed getting outdoors and being active. Long walks was our thing and later on we discovered we both enjoyed racquetball. We were competitive and this helped us stay motivated to organize regular games. However, our exercise regime slowed down after we had children and career started to take off. Neither of us had the time nor the energy to be as active as we once were. Although I still managed to carve out the time to make it to the gym, my husband started to slack off. I could see a change in his mood, health and body composition and started to worry, particularly since he is ten years my senior. I wanted him to be around for a long time and in good condition, so needed to take action to find a way to motivate him to get back on the fitness bandwagon. I used a couple of techniques that I will share with you that worked, but let me explain a couple of facts first.

A recent study in the journal Science Advances has confirmed what proponents of the youth preservation lifestyle have been discussing for a while – exercise may fight aging at the cellular level. To stay healthy, you have to keep your cells young, and exercise fights aging by protecting your cells from the ticking clock.

If you’re interested in expanding your healthy lifespan, then you may already be aware of the power of exercise, but what about your partner? People’s bodies can change over time, and there are many factors which can ultimately affect a person’s level of fitness. Maybe your partner is no longer as healthy as when you first met? Or a change in their working life has led to a reduction in motivation and fitness levels?

The health benefits of regular exercise can’t be disputed, so here are some of the best ways to motivate your partner to start exercising that worked for us.

Let Them Know you Care

Nobody likes to be lectured! I first tried nagging Franck about his non-existent exercise regime, but that only backfired. So then I tried loving words as a motivator. I would say something like: “I don’t think you take enough time for yourself. I want you to be around for a long time for me and the kids, so what can I do to help?” Raise the idea of exercise in a concerned and gentle way, and always include yourself in the health improvement chat. Mention that you think it would be good for both of you to get in shape.

While you hope your words of encouragement and motivation may be enough, it’s always good to get the opinion of a professional on your side. How many times have you said something to your partner that had no effect until someone else said it! Try this: Urge your partner to get a medical checkup, or even schedule one yourself. A statement from a doctor like: “the extra weight and your high blood pressure are putting you at risk of an early death” is enough to get anybody moving! Make sure your partner asks the doctor what exercises are appropriate for their age, fitness level and weight.

Sometimes you only need to look at other family members to find your motivation. Franck and I both have parents who did not take care of their health, had practically non-existent fitness routines and ended up passing away with cancer. These unfortunate events help keep us motivated to be mindful of our own health, while keeping us on track with a regular fitness routine so we can live a longer, healthier and happier life.

Be the Change you Want to see

I knew that if I talked the talk, I would have to walk the walk, otherwise, I had no argument. I decided to up my game and participated in more outdoor activities (and invited him along), enrolled in fun dance classes and added another gym day. If you’re concerned by your partner’s weight, lifestyle and fitness level, make sure you’re setting a good example for them. If you want them to become more active, YOU need to be an encouraging role model and suggest some fun activities you can both do together – hiking, biking or exploring a new city on foot – It’s time to walk the walk! “Being an example of health is the best way to motivate a spouse to get healthier,” says fitness coach, Jonathan Roche, “You won’t have to nag or brag about the changes you’re making; simply let your spouse decide on his own to follow your lead.” Most people don’t like being told what to do, so be a little clever, shut your trap and move forward yourself, no matter how frustrated you are.

Small Steps

Since I never entirely gave up my fitness routine, I was in relatively better shape than Franck. What I had to remember is that if I wanted him to keep up with me, I had to make sure he had small wins. Stroking the ego went much further than trying to show off that I was more fit. Getting back into racquetball was an easy start as he was better at the game anyway and could win after a good sweat. Taking long walks with more breaks in between than usual was another win win situation and an activity we both enjoyed. I needed a little more patience in the beginning, but over time he became stronger and can now out walk me easily.

The most significant obstacle preventing people from living a healthier lifestyle is simply being overwhelmed. It might all seem too much for your partner to even start to make a change, plus people often fear the idea of giving up the things they value and enjoy, such as leisure time, tasty food and drink.

Encourage your partner to do small things to improve their health, e.g. walk an extra 10 minutes a day and don’t automatically slump down in front of the TV after dinner. Why not go for a post dinner walk? Remind them that it isn’t about giving things up, but instead, learning new ways to improve your lives, together. If your partner hasn’t been exercising regularly, start out slowly and gradually build up to more challenging routines. Here’s some motivation for them: A study from the University of Texas found that even 15 minutes of exercise a day can add years to your life! And if that’s not encouraging enough, how about better sex? Working up a sweat releases endorphins and even mimics how we may feel in bed. Plus, the bonds that are created in joint workouts along with a better body that comes with regular exercise, you both will probably not be able to keep your hands off each other.

Power of Positivity

Franck and I live an expat life and move frequently, so with each move we need to find a new exercise regime. I am quick to adapt, while Franck takes a little more time. I used to get frustrated and nag when I didn’t see him immediately sign up to the gym or create an exercise regime. And the more I nagged and complained, the more he resisted. I now always go back to my original plan to pave the path myself, use positive reinforcement for small advances and know he will eventually follow on his own time.

When we moved to Spain I encouraged Franck to take a personal trainer. He tried a few, but no one ever stuck until I found a fantastic trainer who understood the power of positivity to motivate. The trainer understood his needs very well and used small wins, activities that Franck enjoyed and positive reinforcement to encourage his new client to come back time and again. He took Franck out of the gym and into the mountains of southern Spain to enjoy fresh air and outdoor activities. Ever since, Franck is a big fan of hiking and now seeks out to climb every peak he can find. Franck went from a sedentary desktop job to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro!

As the adage goes, ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.’ Being encouraging to your partner’s efforts is a no-brainer. “Encouragement always goes a lot further than criticism,” says Anastasia Pollock, a licensed clinical mental health counselor, “Praise the little changes that they do see—if the partner stops eating chips as often, or drinking soda, or is willing to go on walks. Praising is going to go way further than trying to convince somebody with criticism or contempt.”

Once again, the idea of positive encouragement goes back to the idea of choosing activities that you can do together. In a previous article, I discussed the health benefits of ‘the routine,’ and this is extremely relevant here. Schedule healthy dates in advance and make joint activities a regular part of your week. 

Make it fun

Sometimes you and your partner may not always be up for the same thing, but keep an open mind and give it a go. Marriage and partnerships are all about compromise, right? I was not a fan of cycling like Franck is, but after trying it a few times and enjoying the time spent with him far more than I disliked riding, I learned to really love it. The same goes for Franck and yoga. I like it a lot more than he does, but he values the time spent with me more than the activity itself and after a few sessions felt the amazing benefits he receives from a good yoga class.

Your idea of a good time might be setting new personal bests on the cycling machine, or being able to lift heavier and heavier weights, but you need to consider if your partner feels the same way. Some people find gym sessions boring, intimidating or just expensive! There are many exercise alternatives to weight rooms and gym equipment, but whatever your partner chooses to do (or you do together), make sure it’s fun.

Suggest to your partner that they sign up for a sports team you think they might enjoy or a dance class that you can take together. Most people can find a physical activity they enjoy doing, but you may have to think outside the standard running, biking and swimming options. Here is a list of five possibilities to get you thinking:

  • Yoga
  • Paddle boarding
  • Martial arts
  • Fencing
  • Zumba
  • Racquetball
  • Surfing

Another option to put the fun back into fitness is activity-based video games. These video games, otherwise known as ‘exergames,’ are played standing up and moving around. Whether you’re simulating skateboarding, bowling, tennis or dancing, you’re burning calories. Activity-based video games are a great way for your exercise-shy partner to build up confidence before getting away from the TV screen to play the real thing outside. By the way, all of these tips work to encourage your kids to get moving too!