Combatting a sedentary lifestyle can be as easy as gardening, painting, or washing the car. In this List article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, shares how sedentary behavior affects relationships and how to encourage your partner to share in your active lifestyle.

How Sedentary Behavior Affects Relationships_Julian Lagoy, MD_Mindpath Health

A sedentary lifestyle is rarely, if ever, good for you. Unless you have underlying health conditions restricting you from exercising, science and healthcare professionals will tell you that an active life can prevent conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and osteoporosis, and even combat depression and anxiety. You only have to step outdoors, breathe in the fresh air or look at lush green trees on your lawn to feel an instant sense of peace and bliss. This, coupled with movement, is an excellent way to release endorphins in the brain.

If you didn’t think this was enough reason to get out and get moving, research has also uncovered how inactive behavior can negatively affect romantic relationships. As a certified personal trainer and author Paige Waehner shared, “Everyone knows that healthy eating and exercise is good for us as individuals. However, we hear less about how exercising can benefit our relationship with our spouse.” This is especially true when one partner is dealing with depression.

A study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity has found that your partner’s depressive tendencies may prompt them to lead a sedentary lifestyle which in turn might influence you to do the same. This contagious behavior will ultimately cause the person who’s depressed to further go into inactivity and isolation, leading to higher levels of unhappiness.

This is probably an example of when mirroring has a way of getting in the way of your relationship.

It has to do with how we mimic our significant other’s negative behavior

If you are in a long-term relationship or have ever been in one, you probably understand how your partner’s moods are often contagious. Whether we like it or not, we tend to mirror how our significant other feels. If they’re having a bad day, it’s hard for us to go about our day feeling joyous. If they’re angry, we tend to carry similar emotions. Their behavior affects us too.

According to counselor and relationship expert Michele Moore, this is termed as emotional contagion. Even if you know that avoiding a sedentary lifestyle could be good for both of you, you may get pulled into long weeks of inactivity and lots of sitting around because that’s what your partner is doing. The study highlights how this kind of behavior can give rise to a vicious cycle of increased inactivity and increased levels of unhappiness in a relationship.

Dr. Julian Lagoy, a psychiatrist, says, “The bottom line is we should try to be sedentary as little as possible and try to get out, exercise, and be outside on our feet as much as possible to improve our mental health.” If you are in a rut of inactivity with your significant other, breaking away from it might take some self-awareness and intentional behavior.

Start small and work on leading by example

If you’re the one wanting to change things up, start by asking yourself why and how you’re mimicking your partner’s negative emotions and resulting behavior. Hard as it may be, it is possible to establish some boundaries and practice self-care to change your relationship for the better.

Prioritize getting out and exercising by yourself before you approach the topic with your significant other. Combine this with eating healthy, sleeping well, and connecting with loved ones so you have the fuel you need to tackle challenges that come along the way. Adopting meditation or any other mindfulness practice could help too.

Moving from a sedentary lifestyle into more healthy behavior can’t happen overnight, especially when one of you is dealing with depression.

Forcing your partner to run with you is probably not the best action. Lead by example first. Share the benefits of an active lifestyle with your significant other. Communicate openly with them and find out what physical activity they enjoy. The good thing about exercise is that you can start anywhere and start small.

Once you and your partner begin to see the visible results to your mental health and relationship, you will be motivated to continue adopting healthy behaviors.

Want to learn more about your mental health? Visit our Patient Resources for articles, tips, and education from Mindpath Health’s expert clinicians.

Julian Lagoy, MD

San Jose, CA

Dr. Julian Lagoy is a board-certified psychiatrist. Dr. Lagoy’s research focuses on post-suicide attempt survival and provider attitudes toward LGBTQIA+ patients, which he has presented at the American Psychiatric Association national meeting and the World Psychiatric Association International Congress in Spirituality and Psychiatry. Dr. Lagoy has a passion for service and has participated in medical missions and service trips worldwide. ... Read Full Bio »

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