Support from friends helps one another achieve health goals

Being accountable to a friend is one of the best ways to stay motivated.

Friends can provide a shoulder to lean on or spark sidesplitting laughter.They keep your secrets and share your life. But friends can also make your life better and healthier.

Patient information published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants recommends exercise with a group or partner to help people stay on track. And the Mayo Clinic includes joining forces with friends, family, co-workers or neighbors as one of its fitness programs: 7 tips for staying motivated.

Becky Cobb, a certified personal trainer and co-owner of Personally Fit Personal Training and Wellness Center in Dayton, has seen firsthand the benefits of workout buddies for the past 25 years.

“It’s like physical social networking,” Cobb said. “Committing to another person, whether it’s a friend, your spouse or a trainer, is an important step to get the ball rolling.”

Buddy System

When Myra Michaels’ doctor suggested that the Kettering woman increase her exercise regime, the unofficial recruitment began for her exercise team. Within days, she had friends and family on board, walking with her and working out at the gym.

“When you exercise with someone else, it pushes you,” Michaels said. “On the days you don’t feel like exercising and you get a phone call from your friend, you usually go.”

It’s a familiar occurrence, Cobb said.

“Part of human nature, especially in women, is to do something for someone else before you do something for yourself,” she said. “So if someone is asking you to exercise with them, it’s more likely that you will provide that moral support. But no matter who or what got you off the couch, you’ll be glad you did it. It’s positive peer pressure.”

Michaels and Cobb concur that the quality of the workout will also be better and longer when you exercise with friends.

“You’re having a lot more fun because you’re not just exercising, you’re spending time together,” Michaels said.

“And if your friend decides to do an extra set, you probably will too so you work out for a longer duration,” Cobb said.

Teamwork

Gastric bypass surgery in 2003 was only the first step for Shane White.

Once weighing in at 340 pounds, White exercises to maintain his now 240-pound frame. It’s about more than appearance for the Dayton resident as there is a history of heart disease and obesity in his family.

White’s favorite way to burn calories is play. He currently plays in two softball leagues and a sand volleyball league. Winter means volleyball moves indoors.

“For me, the motivation is knowing that other people are depending on me,” White said. “I’m not the kind of guy who can go out and run 5 miles; I need that social interaction.”

From softball to ice hockey and bowling to basketball, there are a variety of leagues for all ages and experience levels in the Miami Valley.

“I feel like I have more of a purpose because my teammates are counting on me,” White said. “It’s great motivation for those days when you don’t really feel like doing anything.”

Personal trainers

Moral support doesn’t only come from friends and teammates. White also works with a personal trainer.

“There are only a few places that I ‘check-in’ on Facebook and the gym is one of them,” he said. “I want people to notice that I’m doing it and take me to task if they see that I’m not going.”

From the very first day that Cobb opened the doors of Personally Fit 23 years ago, she has offered couples or friends a shared trainer option. It was more affordable for the clients and added elements of accountability, support and fun.

“Those people who have a friend or a spouse to help keep them motivated, stay with the program longer,” Cobb said. “They cheerlead each other along.”

Others who don’t have a willing friend to bring along can rely on their trainer to be that support person.

“If nothing else, they have to pick up the phone and cancel the appointment if they aren’t going to show up and that gives them time to really think about it,” Cobb said.

White agrees: “If I paid for something, I don’t want to waste the money so I go.”

Personal trainers might sound like a luxury. But with shared trainers and even group personal training options, the expense can be reduced significantly. Community recreation centers also offer personal trainers for as little as $30 an hour for residents, depending on location.

Beyond the fitness benefits

Friends might well be the ones to get you off the couch, but the benefits of the buddy system go beyond fitness.

“If you’ve ever seen a group of women power walking, arms flying, you know they are venting big time,” Cobb said.

“It can be emotionally therapeutic to spend time with friends.”

Cobb has also seen the value of fitness friends for seniors.

“It’s like an extended family,” she said. “If someone misses a few walks or classes, their friends check up on them and make sure they are OK.”

But what if your friends are not fitness fanatics? Sites like ExerciseFriends.com enable you to enter their ZIP code and find people in the area who are looking for someone to exercise with. The service is free.

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