How to Keep Your Relationship Fit and Healthy

This article is not about paying each other compliments, foot massages, date nights, candle-lit baths, or weekends in a West Edmonton Mall Roman-themed room.

It’s about making time to exercise and focusing on healthy eating via a joint effort.

My wife and I have been together for 21 years, and we’re both healthy-eating workout warriors. But this wasn’t always the case. Because we’ve got kids and jobs, it’s taken a lot of mutual support, pre-planning and careful time management to make fitness a priority, especially since we engage in different types of exercise.

I am primarily a runner, cyclist, and weightlifter, whereas my wife does none of these things. She does karate. Lots and lots of karate. She recently achieved her international-level black belt, in fact.

Here’s how we make it work, and how you can too:

1. Provide each other with a good example
I was the one that got in shape first. Ten years later, this rubbed off on my wife.

If you’ve got a spouse who is in poor shape, telling them to lose weight or buying them a diet book is going to get you a dirty look at best, and maybe some time sleeping on the couch. When I got in shape, I took charge of the food in the house as well, so we were already halfway there as a team because she was eating what I was buying and preparing. Then she saw how much exercise had become an important part of my life and realized she wanted that for herself.

She tried weightlifting a couple of times and some other things, but it didn’t spark her passion, so she kept looking for something that appealed to her. Then she found a karate dojo that conveniently had classes available while our youngest was in preschool. She was instantly hooked.

2. If you have kids, tag team responsibilities
I’m a single parent two nights a week to accommodate my wife’s karate. Conversely, she single-parents when I take ski days or go cycling. It is a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement where we make it possible for each other to spend more time exercising.

(Also, if one kid has to go to a birthday party or some other event, it is almost always me that takes them because I can go for a run while waiting for the event to be over.)

3. If you have kids, get them involved in exercise
Our kids also take karate. At home, it gives my wife the chance to engage in extra karate practice with the kids in the mini dojo we have set up in the basement.

We also will go for family bike rides where the other three ride and I’m bringing up the rear on foot, gasping and panting and trying to keep up.

4. Make food a family affair
Although I’m the cook, we have similar beliefs about what we should eat. We both understand what healthy eating is about and support each other by not bringing much junk food into the house and encouraging each other to focus on healthy eating.

This also provides a good example for the kids, who only slightly moan about the lack of treats in the house. My son said one of the kids at school called him “nutrition boy” because of what was in his lunch box each day. I told him to be proud, and he was. Food is something we talk about in our house. Our kids understand that junk is a rare treat, that we’re all focused on being healthy together and that what we eat is a big part of that.

5. Plan for active vacations and getaways
Every summer my wife and I spend a lot of time in a two-person sea kayak. With the kids, we go swimming, hiking, and skiing. We’ve even done some rock climbing together, although heights scare the crap out of me. If you can find an exercise you enjoy doing together regularly, then more power to you.

Remember that a relationship is a partnership. Although my wife and I don’t spend that much time exercising together, we do realize how important it is, so we help create an environment where we both have time to do it.

And it’s not completely altruistic. Besides the quid pro quo of tag-teamed parenting, we also each get a lean and muscular body to snuggle up with.

James S. Fell is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a middle-aged family man with a desk job and not much free time, yet he’s able to keep in shape because he loves exercise and doesn’t mind eating healthy. He is the author of Body for Wife: The Family Guy’s Guide to Getting in Shape.