From the Heart and Stroke Foundation

There’s nothing like a buddy to keep you physically fit. A study by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute showed that physical activity levels increase when done in pairs. In fact, the study found that few things help Canadians pursue their physical activity goals more than having a partner or support team. A workout buddy can not only provide accountability and support, but also encouragement and companionship. For example, on the days you don’t feel like going for your 20-minute walk, knowing that your buddy will be there waiting for you will give you that extra incentive to show up.

But how to find that ideal partner? First of all, don’t box yourself in. He or she could be your spouse, best friend, co-worker or teenage daughter. And you don’t have to stick with one buddy all week long – mix it up. Perhaps your best friend can’t make it on Wednesdays, but your neighbour can. And your buddy could also be virtual – someone you check in by phone or e-mail to let them know you’ve been sticking to your routine.

Here are some guidelines to making a partnership work:

Share the same schedule

Your ideal activity partner is someone who shares the same schedule as you. Choosing someone you see at your children’s weekly events or who has the same hours at the office is always a good way to go. Try to find time slots in your schedule that you can be active together.

When establishing a partnership, think long-term. Do schedules allow you to be partners year round? If not, consider establishing a support system. You may wish to create an activity schedule at the start of the week and have a phone call check in with your buddy. Find a buddy at work who you can talk to about your planned activity or find an email buddy who can offer you electronic support.

Set similar goals

If you and your buddy’s objectives are not in sync, you probably won’t be able to work together well. For example, if you want to get to the point that you walk 30 minutes a day, and your friend only wants to stroll after dinner, the partnership won’t likely continue.

But if both of you want to lose weight, for example, the two of you will be motivated to reach your goal together. Just make sure that the goal you set for your partnership is smart; specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Be open to trying something different For many people, exercise is a strict and unvarying routine limited to one or two activities. But you'd be surprised what you may enjoy if you give something else a try. If your partner offers to teach you how to shoot a basketball, even though you haven't played since elementary school, suspend your disbelief or your fear of humiliation rather than reflexively saying, "I'd rather be swimming."

Take turns being the leader Two strong personalities attempting to direct the same workout can lead to butting heads. Let one person plan how you'll spend your half-hour of weights or choose the mountain biking route; think of it as having your own personal trainer, and allow your own brain to shut off.

Try activities you can do at different paces If you both like to cycle, the faster person can sprint ahead, then circle back and ride with the slower one. Or, if you're at the gym, you can work out on adjoining machines and choose your own pace.

Take cues from your buddy Some people like to chat nonstop; others prefer companionable silence or even exercising together while listening to the same iPod playlist. Be aware of what your partner enjoys, compromise, and figure out what works for you both.

Be supportive People are more likely to keep up a physical activity routine if it's fun. "Fun" doesn't include being snapped at for not catching on to the downward dog position in yoga quickly enough or getting an eye-roll when you can't match your partner's walking pace. Be kind and encouraging.

This physical activity column was written by a certified personal trainer and fitness instructor and reviewed by Foundation experts.

Posted: April 1, 2009

Heart and Stroke Foundation

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