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Buddy up for fitness

If you heard there’s a way to double your chances to get fit, wouldn’t you want to know more?

If it sounds too good to be true, it’s actually not! Studies show — and fitness trainers agree — that one of the most important factors for long-term health and fitness success is a support system, i.e., a fitness buddy (or buddies).

“We are social animals,” says Wayne Andersen, MD, co-founder and medical director of Take Shape for Life, a nationwide health and lifestyle coaching program based in Maryland. “We seek the company and positive reinforcement of others, especially when we’re doing work.” That need for personal connection and support? It’s primal.

So, here are five reasons you should walk (or do any kind of workout) with friends.

1. You’re more likely to schedule and stick to activities and workouts.

Having a fitness buddy means you’re more likely to schedule a time to meet and exercise (as opposed to having a tentative plan for yourself… if you can squeeze it into your schedule). Which also means you’re less likely to bail if you know you’ll be letting your buddy down.

“Having a reliable workout [partner] increases your chances of sticking with your program,” said Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, MS, PT, psychologist, physical therapist, and author. Whether it’s a squash game, a hike, or a weight-training session (spotter required), you’re more likely to follow through with plans.

2. Time flies when you’re having fun.

Time can drag on (and on) when you exercise alone. Think of those days when you’re slogging through your treadmill workout, feeling like you’ve been on forever, only to find out it’s been five minutes?

The company of a colleague or friend can help the time fly, and keep your eyes off the clock. Socially engaging with other people before, during, or after a workout can keep you exercising longer, and harder. With a distraction — chatting on a walk, for instance — your perception of how much you’re exerting yourself is much less.

3. It’s less scary to try new workouts.

When you’ve got a partner in crime, it’s less intimidating to check out a new gym or try a new class or piece of equipment. If you’ve been dying to try kettlebells, experience yoga, or do a Crossfit workout, get a buddy on board.

4. You’ll feel more motivated…

Most of us have a competitive streak, and healthy competition is a good thing because it pushes you to perform better. A workout buddy can be the motivation you need to bump your exercise intensity up a notch — for instance, walking or jogging with a friend whose pace is faster than yours, or lifting heavier weights. Chances are, you’ll go all out; who wants to get left in the dust?

5. …and supported.

Having someone in your corner and cheering you on makes a huge difference with everything in life. A good workout partner who motivates and supports you will boost your commitment to your fitness goals — and your confidence that you can achieve them. They’ll usually recognize your improvements and successes even before you do.

Plus, celebrating milestones is always better with a buddy!

Tip: Recruit a companion with a similar schedule.

“Finding time to work out around your job or the kids’ schedules can be challenging,” says Kara Thom, co-author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom. “So it makes sense to recruit the people you see on a regular basis.”

Ask a coworker to join you for a lunch-hour workout or take a walk with other parents who are waiting around during the kids’ sports practice.

Your workout pal doesn’t need to be your best friend, but there should be an emotional connection. He or she must be someone you like and whom you wouldn’t want to disappoint — which means you’ll make time to stay active in your busy life.

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