The warmer weather has arrived – what an awesome opportunity for families to actively recreate together and form stronger bonds. In today’s fast paced, social media-saturated world it is becoming harder and harder for families to shut down and simply find time to be together enjoying one another’s company and ensuring family wellness. For many of us it’s time to make some personal decisions on putting down our phones, shutting off our televisions and gaming devices and committing to getting outside and celebrating summer and family and wellness together.
In fact, recent studies show that after jointly participating in an exciting physical challenge or activity, families report feeling more satisfied with their relationships. For couples, exercise is a perfect example of the type of invigorating activity that can have these positive effects. It’s the physiological arousal, rather than the novelty or challenge of the activity, that drives romantic attraction (Lewandowski, & Aron, 2004). This suggests that sharing a fitness goal such as taking regular runs together, ballroom dancing, or having a date night at the gym can boost the quality of your romantic relationship. A similar affect can occur when parents participate in physical activities with their children. Children and parents feel more bonded, more connected when they participate in physical activities together. Not every child is interested in doing a 5-km run, however. The worst thing parents can do is force a physical activity on their child that does not appeal to them. So be creative parents – find some easy games such as two-way soccer, Bocce, Hide and Seek, or old standbys like Auntie I Over or Kick the Can to combine an aspect of fun and physical activity together.
Working out with your partner or being active with your family can actually improve the efficiency of your workouts. A long-standing concept in social psychology is that the mere presence of someone else affects your ability to do an activity (Zajonc, 1965). Even if you already feel competent doing a particular exercise or activity on your own, bringing along your romantic partner apparently is a fantastic way to boost your energy output. Your partner’s presence will improve your speed, without you necessarily being aware of their influence (Bond & Titus, 1983). The same improvements can happen for all of your family members while they participate in activities together. The desire to show someone close to you what you can do – assists all family members’ ability to participate at higher levels. Healthy and supportive competition within families actually helps family members individually become healthier.
For couples, physical activity can actually help your partner fall more in love with you. Exercise induces the symptoms of physiological arousal—sweaty hands, a racing pulse, shortness of breath. These symptoms mirror, in many ways, the thrill of romantic attraction. Interestingly, people can easily mistake the two and misattribute physical arousal for romantic attraction (Dutton & Aron, 1974). Use this phenomenon to your advantage by inviting your romantic interest to workout with you. The result? Possibly a boost to your attractiveness in his or her eyes.
When families participate and encourage one another to get active this joint participation actually helps the individuals in the family achieve their personal fitness goals. When families care about fitness—their own and their families —it becomes easier to achieve fitness goals. A recent study of heterosexual couples showed that average-weight husbands who care about fitness engage in more physical activity when their wives offer more supportive health-related comments (Skoyen, Blank, Corkery, & Butler, 2013). Sharing in the ups and downs of a daily morning walk, a tough bike ride, or a strenuous Zumba class, can provide the perfect context for such comments. Of course, couples and family members in general need to own their own fitness and health goals if they are to be truly successful long-term. But participating together and cheering one another on certainly helps keep a person encouraged and on track.
Finally, studies show that family members can actually increase the emotional bonds between family members when they work out or participate in physical activities together. For example, you might lift weights in rhythm with your partner, match your own walking or running pace with his or hers, or toss medicine balls back and forth. Such behavior creates non-verbal matching, or mimicry, which benefits you both (Stel & Vonk, 2010). Non-verbal mimicry helps people feel emotionally attuned with one another, and those who experience or engage in non-verbal mimicry tend to report greater feelings of having “bonded” with their partner or family members. Exercising together provides an opportunity to create these connections, benefiting both your own health, the health of your individual family members, and the overall health of your family.
Don’t let this summer and fall go by without making a habit of getting active with those you love the most! The benefits are immeasurable, and the time spent together priceless. Enjoy your summer YBL family and as you do maybe send a picture or two of you and the ones you love the most recreating and bonding together.
All the very best.
Founder of Your Better Life