'Tis the season for renewed self-improvement. Yet research has shown that over half of the millions of Americans who make New Year's resolutions every year will reduce or stop their efforts entirely within the first month. One of the best ways to safeguard your own success is to recruit a friend and/or accountability partner to join you in your healthy pursuits. Here are five benefits that a friend can bring to your workout, and some key recommendations for what to look for in the perfect partner.
1. Element of fun. Nearly every goal, activity, and endeavor is more fun when you share the experience with a friend. In fact, the more fun your workouts are, the more you will look forward to them, and the more likely you are to keep showing up for them. Exercising alone can feel lonely and pointless, but just one friendly connection can keep you motivated as you check off each session of success.
2. Voice of accountability. Of course, there are always days when your activity or sport doesn't feel fun — especially in the winter — and that's when you need the most help. When you have a partner counting on you to show up, you're less likely to skip out on the plan. Get together with your partner in advance of your start date, and plot your agreed-upon sessions on a calendar that you can see and access regularly. Set yourself an alarm if you have to, and if you forget or try to sleep in, your partner will be there to keep you focused and on track.
3. Maximum session output and effectiveness. Exercising with a friend generates a healthy competition that helps you both to push your limits. You're more likely to go an extra round with a friend spurring you on. Be open and transparent with each other about what you'd like to achieve, then see who can get there first.
4. An extra layer of safety. It's always best to train with a partner, especially in winter activities and sports where the very playing area can pose fall risks and other hazards. Having a partner ensures you will always have an extra set of eyes to help remove hazards and prevent injury, and an extra set of hands to provide first aid and call for help if you should have an accident.
5. Mental health boost. Perhaps the strongest benefits of an accountability partner are those to your mental health. The social interaction boosts confidence and positive self-image, and the shared common goals build resolve and resilience. Most of all, the self-feeding cycle of positive feedback and accomplished goals provide regular reinforcement that leads to consistency and overall health improvement.
What to look for in an exercise partner
To reap the greatest benefit from an exercise partnership, you must first ensure that your prospective partner is a good match for you. The ideal workout buddy should be:
Someone you enjoy spending time with. If the company is too much of an emotional effort, you'll give up on your goals.
About 40 percent more fit than you are. This person should qualify as a fitness role model for you, yet be at a level that seems achievable to you if you really work for it.
Positive-minded and consistent. They need to respect your time and feelings, and you need to trust that they have your back.
A good workout partner can be your greatest asset for safety and success when it comes to accomplishing your goals and resolutions. Here's to a new year and a new you!
Steven Cohen is a sports medicine surgeon at Rothman Institute.