Valentine’s Day: Dr. Levi Harrison’s fitness tips for couples

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Dr. Levi Harrison believes that staying fit is the key to a vibrant existence. “What I tell everyone is that exercising is the key to life. When you keep on exercising, you keep on living,” he told theGrio the day before Valentine’s Day.

In honor of this holiday celebrating romantic love, Dr. Harrison shared with us his advice for helping couples best use their partnering energy to help each other stay in shape. The author of the book, The Art Of Fitness, and the creator of the workout DVD The Art of Fitness: Cardio Core Workout, stressed that we need to love ourselves and our bodies the way we are now, as a start. Ultimately, his goal is to “get everyone to exercise and eat properly.” If you plan on achieving your fitness goals this year, you and your partner may start by going to a fitness center more regularly.

theGrio: It’s Valentine’s Day. You have made it part of your mission to get couples to exercise. Why?

Dr. Harrison: If you have someone whom you love, or like, working out with them is a great way to develop a sense of accountability, friendly competition, and increase the sense of intimacy in terms of bonding. Talk about how you want to work out next time, talk about how you want to increase the intensity of your exercise program, and of course, talk about your diet. When you work out with a partner, that’s the person that most likely you’ll share meals with. As a couple you have an even greater chance of success, because there are two of you involved, so you can encourage each other on this journey of getting fit together.

A lot of people will be going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. What tips do you have for eating healthy for this and any other occasion when eating out?

I recommend confirming before you get there that you are only going to have one drink a piece. I’d also recommend considering a fruity-type drink, like a piña colada or a daiquiri, as opposed to hard-core alcohol, like whisky or brandy. If you are going to have dessert, why not split the dessert? Make the dinner even more intimate. That gives you the chance to get only half the calories.

Another thing I would recommend is that you have a fruit tart instead of some kind of custard, because it’s the heavy, thick cream that will pack on the calories. Before you even order your main meal, have a big green salad first. Don’t order all your food at once. Let your body accommodate to the salad, then most likely, you’ll want a smaller entree.

You might not even want dessert.

If people want to kick-off a post-Valentine’s workout routine with their partner, what are some simple exercises they can start with?

There’s one that I love. You can do sit-ups with weights. You face your partner in the sit-up position. You can either wrap your legs together, or put your knees right next to each other in the sit-up position. You do the sit-up with a five or ten pound weight in your hand, or with a medicine ball. When you do the sit-up, when you come up, you pass the ball to the person. Then they hold the ball with their hands, lay back, touch the ball to the ground, come up, and then pass the ball to the other person.

Another thing you can do is side lunges. They’re facing you again, do a side lunge and you pass a five to ten pound medicine ball to them. When they get the medicine ball, they’re going to twist to the right and the left. They come up, they give you the ball, then you do the side lunge, and you do a twist to the left and the right. Continue with that for two sets of 15.

Another thing I do with my wife is we jump rope together. Our goal will be to do 10 minutes of jumping rope with a minimum of 800 skips in ten minutes, keeping a really good pace. If you can just do 40-50 skips per minute, in ten minutes, you’ve done 400 skips.

Valentine’s Day is a holiday for all kinds of love. Can you speak to the importance of exercise in staying healthy for all the people you love?

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in America. Obesity and being overweight is the number one cause. In the African-American community, studies have shown that obesity rates range from 60-80 percent for women, really a staggering amount.

You have to realize that you have to do something about your weight, because it puts you at a greater risk of heart disease. We have to be mindful about our diet. We have to realize that exercise is non-negotiable.

What are your tips for people who have not had much experience exercising?

Number one, start off slow and have goals — weekly goals of what you want to do. Start off with either a walking program, or a swimming program, as well as a stretching program. Stretching has to be a part of every fitness program. We have to do that in order to avoid injury to the muscles, the ligaments, and the tendons. If you go to an exercise class, go at your own level. Pace yourself, monitor your breathing. Take breaks. You don’t have to keep up with the instructor or your next-door neighbor. But do something every day.

A lot of black women will be single this Valentine’s Day — and men as well. Can you speak to the need to stay in shape as an act of self-love?

It’s so important for women, especially African-American women, to love their bodies just the way they are. It’s so important to understand with respect to relationships, no man will complete you. You are complete by yourself. You want to have a partner who complements you. God already gave you everything to be complete by yourself. You are beautiful the way you are. When it comes to working out, I don’t want you working out for your man. I want you working out for you. You are beautiful and perfect with or without him.

My message to women — especially black women — is love the beauty that you have.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb

This article has been edited for length.