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/ Source: TODAY
By Brooke Sassman

They've been working out together since the beginning — some of their very first dates included outdoor runs, hikes and bike rides.

Mike and Lex Sawtelle have always preferred exploring the outdoors. They'd choose it over dinner and a movie any night. The couple, who started dating over four years ago, have built their marriage mostly on the supportive ideals they entered the relationship with: pushing each other to reach their fitness goals.

"We both lived very active lifestyles before we met, so continuing with that when we met came naturally," Mike told TODAY.com. "We have tried to make working out not just a phase or New Year's resolution, but rather a daily activity because we both recognize that our quality of life is better when fitness is consistent."

It's also their way of supporting and holding one another accountable. For the Sawtelles, working out together has helped them maintain healthy diets and achieve personal health goals.

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Dr. Jane Greer, relationship expert and author of "What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship" says that looking and feeling fit is important not just to each person's self-esteem, but also to the overall confidence of the couple.

"It creates a shared goal, and it helps you harness your motivation, follow through with determination, develop perseverance and stamina, and keep an eye on a future accomplishment — losing weight, for example," Greer said. "This will give you consistency that will increase your compatibility as you share the value of fitness and health together."

Both partners benefit from a team effort, Greer points out. "You don't need to worry that your partner is unhealthy or becoming unattractive because they aren't taking care of their appearance. It creates harmony rather than fighting over one person who is neglecting their health," Greer added.

Aiming for the same goals makes communication much smoother, Mike says. "We both believe healthy and happy go hand-in-hand."

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Even their 3-year-old goldendoodle, Wrigley, gets in on the fun. He's in tow for every outdoor adventure the Sawtells go on, Mike says. "Having a more active dog has been beneficial for us because he needs to get energy out. It forces us to get outside and try to keep up with him."

Greer says that the hardest thing about exercise is getting to the gym. But working together (or even with a dog!) you'll quickly build healthy habits and push each other to persevere.

"You need to be able to tolerate the strain, the sweat, the discomfort," Greer says. "Ultimately you'll be able to see the positive outcomes, but like anything else it takes effort and investment to get started and maintain the routine."

Thinking about working out with your significant other? Greer says that these are the top three benefits:

  1. It increases your bond as a couple, in terms of shared activities.
  2. It enhances your sense of well-being individually and strengthens your commitment as a couple as you mutually take care of yourselves within the relationship. You're both dedicated to practicing healthy habits and supporting each other as a team.
  3. It makes you feel good to see your partner taking care of himself/herself, which increases respect for them and security in the relationship.

As with most things, it's challenging to start if it's been a while, or you're just buying running sneakers for the first time. Mike Sawtelle offers this advice:

"Start with realistic goals, baby steps. It's easy to get caught up with extreme transformations over short periods of time. Much more probable is a transformation over time that comes from making small lifestyle changes. Start by changing your date night to a more active one. It's more fun, and usually free!"