Probably the most important and most overlooked aspect of health and endurance training is the impact of relationships. It is so easy to get caught up focusing on optimizing our diet and planning the perfect workout schedule that we don’t consider how our relationships factor into the overall health equation.
This TED Talk summarizes the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development that tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years. The takeaway from the study was “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
To summarize: The presentation had three main takeaways:
- Social connections are really good for us and loneliness is toxic: It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family and friends are happier and live longer than people who are less well-connected. People who feel isolated are less happy and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.
- Quality over quantity: The benefits of relationships wasn’t about number of friends the study participants had or if they were in a committed relationship, but the quality of those relationships. Essentially, those that were the healthiest at age 80 were also the ones that had the strongest relationships at age 50.
- Relationships protect our body and our brains: The people in strong relationships experienced less physical pain and stayed mentally sharp longer as they aged.
And that makes so much sense! If your home life is stressful it is going to elevate cortisol and impact sleep which can cascade into a whole host of other unhealthy repercussions. The thing is, “improving your relationships” is hard so it easier to turn to things like kale and exercise to improve health. Relationships are complex and not always logical but they are also the most fulfilling things we have in our life. And let’s be honest…when our relationships are good life is GREAT and when they aren’t it can SUCK.
My wife and I have really gotten into watching the HGTV show Fixer Upper with Joanna and Chip Gaines. Normally I consider home improvement shows to be beyond boring but this one is different. The dynamic between the husband and wife team is hilarious and inspiring. This is a couple that has four kids, a farm, a TV show, a retail business, a real estate company, they remodel houses, and an upcoming book. I’m just so captivated by how they can work through all of that together and have so much fun doing it when a schedule like that would probably bury most families. They handle it so well because of how strong their relationship is.
I did a consult with Tawnee Prazaak, star endurance coach and host of the Endurance Planet podcast, a few months ago to talk about getting back into long course triathlon and how I should get started (more on that in a future post). One of things she asked that really stuck with me was whether your wife was supportive of your race endeavors. And the fact that I paused and I couldn’t answer with a resounding yes made me think I was starting to get too far ahead of myself.
When my wife and I first started dating I was in the midst of training for an Ironman. During that time I was putting in 20ish hours of training a week so that is what she associates with Ironman training volume. Back then I was in my last semester of college (pretty much a part-time student) and just had a part-time job so I could fit in that type of volume. Now…we have a house, two dogs, and pretty demanding jobs so the idea of me layering in 15-20 hours of training volume on top of our current schedule probably comes off as pretty selfish. And one way to NOT recover well from a long workout is to come home to an annoyed spouse.
Relationships should always come before any training plan. As I start to focus on increasing my training volume it will always be scheduled around family time. For one, I don’t need, or desire, to do as much training volume as I did during my first Ironman. Lastly, training will always come at the expense of my own endeavors vs. time with my family.
Where I’m going with all of this is that if we want to do epic stuff and live a long and happy life, it would appear that the best thing we can do is spend more time leaning into our relationships and a little less time finding the perfect locally sourced organic kale and squeezing in another workout.