Think the key to attraction and a successful relationship is all mystical je ne sais quoi? According to the experts, there’s actually a lot of science to it – which could be applied to other areas of your life, including your fitness regime.
Fitness First has teamed up with evolutionary anthropologist and relationship scientist Anna Machin, from Channel 4’s Married At First Sight, to see if the science of relationships could help tackle our habit of not sticking with fitness goals.
At this time of year, we’re inundated with stats showing that, all too often, those get-fit resolutions barely last the length of January (one in 10 apparently give up after one or two weeks, while the majority have stopped after five, apparently) – despite the fact most will readily admit being fit and active makes them feel good and more self-confident.
Lee Matthews, Fitness First’s fitness and marketing director, says: “We’ve already been working with behavioural psychologists to understand the challenges that people face when it comes to sticking at new habits, but wanted to further this.
“Almost a quarter of people cite time as the biggest reason for not maintaining a routine. We also found getting bored and lacking enjoyment were to blame, which is why we’ve partnered with Anna, to deepen our understanding.
“People feel like they’re failing when they fall off the wagon, and this in turn creates negative feelings towards exercise and healthy eating. Working with Anna explains the science behind this behaviour, and offers tips on creating a better relationship with healthy habits, so we can help new and prospective members.”
So how can we harness the science of relationships and build a loving bond with exercise? Here are Fitness First and Machin’s three vital steps to a lasting match…
1) Create chemistry
Relationships are as fundamental to survival as air, food and water because they lead to protection and (generally speaking) procreation, notes Machin – and to make sure we stay motivated to seek out and maintain relationships, our brains have evolved to produce chemicals triggered by love and friendship. Oxytocin encourages us to start relationships, while endorphins and dopamine keep them going – and all “make us feel warm, content and even euphoric”.
Matthews says: “To produce beta-endorphin, you need to do aerobic exercise for around 30 minutes, but the reward is a wave of feel-good chemicals. Try a high intensity interval training (HiiT) workout. After a while, you’ll crave that feeling again and be motivated to exercise, so while the first few sessions might feel like a chore, once you’ve had regular hits of endorphins, you’ll be keen to keep it up.”
Machin adds: “Research by my team at Oxford University has found that if you do a vigorous activity in a group setting and in synchrony, then the endorphin hit is even bigger. Ultimately, with the power of the endorphin, you may become as attracted to exercise as you are to your partner.”
2) Check your compatibility
Compatibility is key for relationship success, and at the basis of this, Machin explains, are four attachment styles that are the result of both genetics and experience. She notes that none are right or wrong, but some styles fit better together in the long term. The goals for our relationship with exercise are the same: we need it to be long-term and comfortable. So find a form of exercise that suits your personality.
“If you prefer time on your own or are an introvert, try solitary pursuits such as a session on your own in the gym, running or cycling. Whereas if you’re an extrovert with a love of music, a dance class could be your perfect match. If your attention span is short, look at introducing a HiiT class into your life, or if it’s long, a Pilates class could be a natural fit,” says Matthews.
3) Keep it fresh
The most successful long-term relationships are those where the couple keep things fun and exciting, and take the time to explore new experiences together, to laugh and have fun, Machin highlights. And it’s important to keep challenging yourself, and to mix things up and try new things with exercise, too. If things get stale and boring, of course you’re going to lose interest.
“From a physiological perspective, doing different types of activity ensures you are working all areas of the body and improving everything from aerobic capacity, to flexibility and strength,” says Matthews. “We encourage our members to make full use of the range of activities available both in and out of our clubs. For example, try combining classes, Freestyle sessions and long walks over the weekend to keep things interesting and challenge your body.”
Machin adds: “No relationship survives without a bit of hard work, and it’s when we take our eye off the ball that trouble can set in. Your relationship with exercise is no different. Work on creating a mindset that elevates exercise as an important part of your life. When you’ve neglected [it] for a few weeks, give it a bit of extra attention and loving care, just as you would a partner.
“And remember, sometimes a great way to show your love is with a gift, so when you’ve achieved a particular goal – treat yourself!”