Want to get healthy? New research finds lifestyle changes are more successful when couples do it together.
Men and women who want to stop smoking, get active and lose weight are much more likely to meet with success if their partner also adopts the same healthy habits, according to new research. Married, or cohabiting couples who have a 'healthier' partner are more likely to change than those whose partner has an unhealthy lifestyle. The study also revealed that for both men and women having a partner who was making healthy changes at the same time was even more powerful.The findings are published in the Jan. 19 online issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.
To explore the potential benefit of partnering up for change, the study authors analyzed data collected between 2002 and 2012 on more than 3,700 couples who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. Most of the participants were 50 or older, and all the couples were married or living together. Starting in 2002, the couples completed health questionnaires every two years. The couples also underwent a health exam once every four years. During this exam, all changes in smoking history, physical activity routines and weight status were recorded. By the end of the study period, 17 percent of the smokers had kicked the habit, 44 percent of inactive participants had become newly active, and 15 percent of overweight men and women had lost a minimum of 5 percent of their initial weight. The research team found that those who were smokers and/or inactive were more likely to quit smoking and/or become newly active if they lived with someone who had always been cigarette-free and/or active.
But overweight men and women who lived with a healthy-weight partner were not more likely to shed the pounds, the study reported.
However, on every measure of health that was tracked, all of those who started off unhealthy were much more likely to make a positive change if their similarly unhealthy partner made a healthy lifestyle change. For example, about half of male and female smokers quit smoking after their smoking spouse quit. This compared with just 8 percent who quit when their smoking spouse did not. Similarly, about two-thirds of inactive men and women became newly active after their inactive spouse got moving. This compared with only about a quarter who got physical while their spouse remained a couch potato. And about a quarter of men shed some pounds after their wife had lost weight, while just 10 percent of men lost weight when their wives had not. More than one-third of women lost weight along with their partner, while only 15 percent of women lost weight when their spouse did not.
The study only found an association between healthier habits and spousal support.
The moral of the story is changing together makes change easier -- support, encouragement and maybe a little bit of competition. Perhaps, as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Behavior choices are highly influenced by social surroundings and support.
For those looking to embrace a healthier lifestyle, you might want to enlist your spouse or significant other.
Support and camaraderie can also be found outside the home. Taking a class, hiring a trainer, or working with a registered dietitian are also ways of getting the support one may need when making healthy changes. Just having another person on your side, whoever that is, can be very motivating.
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