By K. Aleisha Fetters
Break a sweat for a better date. It turns out that exercise can lead to sweaty pleasures on and off your chosen field of play. The love connection: Exercise-induced endorphins help clear your mind of clutter, up your happiness factor, and rev up your sex drive, says Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, licensed marriage and family therapist.
As if that weren't enough reason to veer off the beaten path, consider this -- research shows that simply doing new things together as a couple ignites the same circuit as does falling in love. By flooding the brain's reward system with dopamine and norepinephrine, mixing up date night can help those butterflies hang around a bit longer.
Read on for 10 fitness dates that will boost your mood and your bond.
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Your hearts are going to race, and not just in the I'm-about-to-pee-in-my-spandex way. When your body is physiologically aroused (think skyrocketing blood pressure, slippery palms, and a pounding heart kind of way) your brain links that feeling with whatever -- or whoever -- is in your environment. So if you're there when your date's heart goes pitter-patter, he won't blame his fear of heights, he'll believe you're the reason for his jitters, Hokemeyer says. Plus, the only thing that's better than the view at the top is the one under your beau's booty from below! Belaying (operating the climber's rope) requires teamwork and clear communication that can push couples way past any mundane conversation they had during a dimly lit dinner, says Hokemeyer. Also, the belayer is responsible for the climber not falling on their head, so trust is pretty vital -- rappelling down is the biggest trust fall known to man.
Set the Date: Before you go mountain crazy, start with something manmade. If your gym has a climbing wall, perfect. If not, check out indoorclimbing.com to find a site near you.
When the clothes come off, do you and your guy immediately climb under the sheets? Consider climbing on the mat instead. "Nudity in relationships can become complacent, and it gets to the point where we rarely see each other fully naked," says Grace Wathan, yoga instructor at Las Vegas Naked Yoga. "Practicing yoga together in the nude gives you an opportunity to see and learn about each other's bodies and deal with body image insecurities." In fact, women who practice yoga have 20 percent higher body satisfaction than those who perform aerobics, according to a study done by the University of California in Berkeley. "Yoga connects you to your body and helps you admire it for all it can do, not how it looks," says Wathan. "When practiced correctly, yoga engages the entire body -- especially the core -- while giving you more energy, reducing stress, and improving your mood and posture."
Set the Date
: Run a simple Google search for "naked yoga classes" in your city. Keep in mind that they are typically not offered in gyms, but in alternate spaces, as public locales need a special license to play host to people who are sans clothes, says Wathan. If you can't find a class or are just feeling shy, move your coffee table and strip down at home.
Take your picnic date to the next level -- literally. Hiking is a great way to work up a sweat, firm up your lower body, and bring you closer. Exercising outside increases feelings of revitalization and positive thinking, much more so than an indoor workout, according to a report published in Environmental Science and Technology. And if you're feeling adventurous, it can be a great way to add some spice to the sack, or sleeping bag, grassy knoll, babbling brook...you get the picture.
Set the Date: Make sure you're both comfortable with the trail. Suggesting a 5-mile trek into the woods alone might not be a good idea for a first date for new hikers. To get the most from your adventure, test out some hiking poles. They allow you to work your arms, shoulders, chest, and upper-back muscles through a functional range of motion, suggests trainer Marta Montenegro, adjunct professor of exercise and sports sciences at Florida International University. Not to mention, you'll look pretty hardcore.
Put down Fifty Shades of Grey and take a page out of the paintball playbook. Healthy competition is the perfect opportunity to test out some playful domination (without that weird Red Room of Pain). Or, team up and take down a mutual opponent taking your power couple status to a whole different level. Either way, you'll be so hyped up you won't even notice all of the calories you burn while running, jumping, and dodging paintballs as you dish 'em right back out. Just remember: no physical contact is allowed on the field, so you'll have to wait until the end of the game to play nursemaid.
Set the Date: You'll be hard-pressed not to find a paintball field in your city. But call ahead first to make sure you can rent equipment there rather than having to purchase a paintball gun and all of the cha-ching paraphernalia that goes with it. And keep in mind this is not a dress-to-impress date. Wear pants and long sleeves to prevent battle wounds.
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No matter how many left feet your man has, dance lessons are a great way to set your muscles -- and chemistry -- on fire. Take the sultry moves of the cha-cha and salsa for example, which mimic all the thrusting and gyrating of your other favorite partner exercise. But even if you choose something like a waltz, dancing together is a great way to get in sync on the dance floor and your relationship, says Hokemeyer. Not only can the combination of exercising and learning new steps or routines keep your body and mind entertained, it takes just three weeks for a fit body to adapt to exercises, making your regular moves all but moot if you don't switch things up regularly, says Montenegro.
Set the Date
: Dance studios, rec centers, and gyms offer beginner dance classes for students of all ages and skill levels. And no matter how good your legs look in high heels, start off with sneakers to keep from twisting your ankle on the first cha-cha-cha.
No matter how fast or slow your relationship is going, biking together is a great way to stay in shape. Even at a recreational pace of 13 to 15 mph, which allows your lungs plenty or air for chitchat -- you can expect to burn 500 to 600 calories in an hour. Cycling targets the biggest muscles in your body like your quads, hamstrings, hips, and glutes, helping you lean up and keep a zippy metabolism, says Montenegro. Research also shows that just 30 to 45 minutes of exercise most days can boost your base metabolic rate and keeping it humming all day, so you can split a cupcake at that new bakery at the end of your ride. Bonus: Biking around town will help you explore your neighborhood and even find a few new restaurants to try out together.
Set the Date
: To prevent the very unsexy misfortune of saddle soreness, consider taking some solo rides to test out a few different bike seats. If the weather is not on your side, or you can't help but leave your dude in the dust, consider taking Spin classes together instead, suggests Amy Dixon, Equinox group fitness manager in Santa Monica, California.
Not only will this show your guy not to cross you, this bob and weave workout burns mega calories -- up to 450 per hour, according to the American Council on Exercise. "This is one of the most complete exercises out there," says Montenegro. "It works areas like power, strength, endurance, agility, and flexibility." Plus, by releasing those feel-good endorphin levels, kickboxing gives you the opportunity to literally beat away your stress. What couple couldn't benefit from that?
Set the Date
: Ask your gym about its kickboxing class offerings. But vow not to climb into the ring together -- things can get ugly pretty easily that way, Hokemeyer says. ("I told you to take the trash out!") However, cheering your guy on as he knocks out his opponent will up his alpha male factor big time, and that's a turn-on for both of you.
Who knew layers could be so sexy? Whether you're cozying up on the lift or racing each other down the slopes, a day spent skiing is a day well spent for couples, especially those looking to shed a few pounds in the process. A full day's skiing can burn more than 2,000 calories, according to the Mayo Clinic. How so? Keeping yourself steady on your skis requires a constant crouched position, which puts your lower body and core under constant, fat-burning strain. And since your body has to work harder to keep itself warm in freezing temps, your endorphin production is boosted, making you one happy snow bunny. Plus, being a speed demon on the trails will rev you adrenaline levels, so take that mood boost and your guy and go warm up by the fire. Or in the shower.
Set the Date
: Plan a ski weekend for two and cap things off with a couples massage to ease tired muscles. If you're new to the sport, hit the bunny slopes first, and encourage your guy to give you some pointers, Hokemeyer says. Because what guy doesn't jump at the chance to teach us a thing or two?
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This teamwork-paddled date packs all the scenery and tranquility (not to mention upper-body burn) into one picture-perfect afternoon. While both people have to paddle at the same time (no slackers allowed!), whoever is in front has to trust the person in the back to steer properly. So when they say, "No honey, I'm not going to steer you into that big rock," you just have to go with it. It turns out that all that communicating will not only improve your skills but your attitude as well. One study of Oxford University rowers found that team members who worked out together doubled their endorphin release compared to those who exercised solo.
Set the Date: If you don't live near water, schedule a private kayak outing on your next vacation. Despite how romantic a moonlit ride may seem, head for shore before the sun starts to set. Safety first!
The runner's high is real -- and even more so with the buddy system. Running with a partner (especially a cute one) can keep you distracted and curb stress so you can run faster and longer. If you can mix in a little motivation, even better. "Every time I work out with my husband it pushes me to work a little harder," says Dixon. "Push each other the right amount and you'll keep raising the bar together." As long as weather permits, don't just trounce on the treadmill. When striding outdoors, fighting winds and ever-changing temperatures alone can up your calorie burn by 5 to 7 percent. And unlike running on a treadmill, which does some of the work for you, pounding the pavement forces you to fully engage your hip extensors muscles (the glutes and hamstrings) to push off the ground, Montenegro says. For a real challenge, go for a run on the beach. The sand, with its unstable surface, forces you to heavily use your lower leg muscles.
Set the Date: Pick a route that both of you can do (we don't want any bruised egos here), and then do your best to push and cheer each other on, says Dixon. Don't be afraid to ask for a water break if you need it -- your partner probably needs one too!
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By K. Aleisha Fetters