Tips for getting your loved ones into the exercise act (and making them think it was their idea)

Many of us work out not only because we know its good for us but because it also makes us feel good. Unfortunately, the people we care about dont always view exercise the same way.

Several friends of mine complained recently that they cant seem get their significant others off the couch. One friend says shes tried everything to get her boyfriend to join her running or mountain biking, but nothing works. Another says her boyfriend wont exercise at all but still believes he is in good shape. They arent expecting their boyfriends to look like they just stepped off the cover of Mens Health, but my friends worry their boyfriends are becoming increasingly unhealthy.

Still, they dont know what else to do to motivate their loved ones to exercise. If youre in a similar situation, I offer these suggestions:

Give your partner social support. Dont just nag your partner to go to the gym. Suggest that the two of you run, hike, kayak or mountain bike together.

Social support is a big help, says Howard Katz, M.D., director of New England Sports Psychiatry in Brookline, Mass. Either do something with your partner, or find other friends who they have done things with in the past and encourage them to work out with those people.

Be flexible. Just because you enjoy a certain sport doesnt mean your partner will. Pick an activity you know your partner will like and start off slowly. You may have to try many different activities before finding one that works. Your partner also might be the type of person who needs a lot of variety and wont get hooked on one sport.

Dont overdo it. Start out easy, Katz says. People have the idea that they need to have a big, intensive program to get fit, but actually even small things like walking are very beneficial. Make it fun and not too demanding.

Your partner will probably not enjoy it if you head out for a five-mile run right off the bat. Start with a mile or two, and once he or she is hooked on the endorphin high, you can add more miles.

Set some goals. For many people, having a concrete goal like a 5K or a charity bike ride can be very motivating.

Constantly telling your partner how good exercise is isnt particularly effective, Katz says. The knowledge that its good for you doesnt seem to help much. That knowledge might get somebody started on an exercise program, but often they wont continue with it.

Instead, Katz suggests learning your partners goals like getting to the gym twice a week or finishing a 5K.

Have them articulate tangible goals and then write those goals down, Katz says. And it helps to have interim goals along the way.

For example, if your partner wants to run a 5K, try setting an interim goal of first running twice a week, then running three times a week with the final goal being completing the 5K race.

Bribe your partner with gear. Cool sports gear can lure even the most diehard potato off the couch. A new sports watch, cycling jersey or pair of hiking boots can help get your significant other excited to go out and use the gear.

One friend found that after she bought her boyfriend a pair of running shoes, he was willing to join her on her morning runs twice a week. So far, even after the novelty of new shoes has worn off, hes still out running.

Dont push too hard. People sometimes feel overwhelmed by the idea of needing to get in shape all at once.

Decide what is an appropriate level of fitness, Katz says. There is a gap between the idealized image of what it means to be fit and the reality of it.

The reality of being fit doesnt mean a perfect body; it means having a healthy, active body.

Once youve tempted your potatoes off the couch, they may discover they like exercise as much as you do.

Do you work out with your significant other? Did they get you started exercising, or vice versa? Sound off on our message boards

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