“Don’t go without a buddy!” That frequent reminder of childhood is good advice at any age. Whether it’s swimming in the ocean or riding life’s currents, buddies watch out for one another. Whether you’re part of a couple or share your home with a friend or relative, the buddy system can be your pathway to a healthier life. The likelihood of staying on track and just showing up increases when you’re committed to a buddy.
Maybe you’re feeling it’s time for some change. You know what you’d like to do – exercise more, eat better, stress less – but you’re bound to face challenges. You might decide not to exercise today because it’s pouring outside and just too much effort. Or you stop at a fast-food place because you’re in a rush – what else can you do? Maybe you’ll wind up watching TV all night, when you really meant to take a walk after dinner. Even your 10-minute meditation has bitten the dust. When you forget to exercise, you’re more likely to remember the cookies and ice cream, too.
It can be tough to keep yourself motivated day after day, in the face of uncooperative weather, moods and the other million details of life. It’s even harder if you’re living with someone who’s not on the same track. Many areas of life could be pleasanter and more rewarding if you and your partner agreed to live healthier together. As Alice Steinfeld, Life Management therapist at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, explains, “Chances of success improve when you combine a personal sense of commitment along with mutual commitment to provide support for a healthy lifestyle.”
So where do you start? Honest communication, respectful negotiation and practical goal-setting can get you on a shared path. Then keep track, acknowledge success, cheer each other on every day.
At the gym, on the trail. The buddy system helps you get out of your chair and get moving. If you promise to work out with your mate, you’re less likely to back out at the last minute. When you plan a hike or schedule time on the tennis court, you won’t want to let your partner down. And when one of you feels sluggish, the other can be the booster. Your combined energy and commitment raises the shared bar.
Look for fun and different ways to exercise, too. “Explore new running or walking paths, join teams, enter competitions, raise money for charities,” Alice says. “Become part of a community interested in the same goals. Enjoying these positive experiences together enhances your relationship in many ways.”
At the table. How can you eat healthy when the person you live with subsists on cheeseburgers, chips and donuts? Talk it over. You’re not trying to deprive anyone of anything. The idea is that you support each other in eating well and deliciously. Once you decide together to improve the household eating habits, things can progress quickly.
Go to the farmers market together and find wholesome foods you both like. Stock your pantry by consensus, limiting the nutrition-free temptations and keeping plenty of healthy delights on hand. Look through cookbooks for healthy versions of meals you both enjoy. Take a cooking class together. Dining out as a health-minded couple can be helpful; since restaurant portions are often twice times as much as you need, you can easily share a dinner, halving the calorie count and the bill.
In real life. When you agree on a smoke-free lifestyle, moderation in food and alcohol, and choosing active pastimes rather than sedentary ones, you can make it all happen. Together you can choose activities, places and people that support your goals, avoiding situations that might derail you. You’ll be each other’s safety zone and can create new lifestyle patterns that reduce stress and incorporate habits that keep you fit, joyful and in charge.
Alice suggests these buddy system tips:
- Strive to encourage, not criticize.
- Set periodic goals and celebrate milestones.
- Put your shared workouts and active outings on a shared calendar.
- Choose vacations and weekend activities that are fun, active and help keep you on track.
- Try something new together – scuba diving, ballroom dancing, rock-climbing or volleyball, for instance. When you find something you both love, it will be easy to stick with it.
- Let each other know when you notice progress and results.
- Commit to a varied fitness program, including weight exercises, outdoor activities and indoor classes. Consider team sports and active hobbies and interests.
- Invite friends for bowling, tennis, cycling, after-dinner walks and picnicking. Think creatively to add fun to ordinary days.
- Check local newspapers for noncompetitive community events that encourage teamwork and group support.
Make a promise to each other to stay healthy and happy together. You’ll be glad the rest of your life.