Spouses Who Move Together Get Healthy Results

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


After years of marriage, many couples do begin to look alike, for better or worse. Besides similar facial features, they also often take on the same physical shape, either fit or not. Eating, smoking, and exercising habits are usually shared between spouses. However, if one of them decides to make a life change to get healthier, two new studies have found that can have a positive effect on their partner as well.

Health researchers at University College London looked for ways to encourage people to change their bad habits.  They studied the results of 3,722 couples over the age of 50 who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), giving them data on their eating, smoking, exercise and other health data over a number of years.

They found that if both spouses took on a healthy lifestyle change at the same time, they were much more likely to be successful.  For example, 50% of women who smoked were able to quit if their husband also quit, versus 8% if their husband kept smoking.  If men decided to be more active, 67% were able to stick with it if their wives also exercised with them, but only 26% of men kept it up if they exercised alone. Similar results were seen for weight loss, with 36% of women losing weight when joined by their husband, versus only 15% on their own.

The study results have been published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

In a similar study focused just on exercise, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found very similar results. At this year’s American Heart Association's EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore, they reported how involving both spouses in an exercise program can get better results.

"When it comes to physical fitness, the best peer pressure to get moving could be coming from the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table," says Laura Cobb, a doctoral student and co-author of the research. "There's an epidemic of people in this country who don't get enough exercise and we should harness the power of the couple to ensure people are getting a healthy amount of physical activity."

Cobb and her team combed through patient records from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, which started tracking health data on 15,792 middle-aged adults from four states back in 1987. At two different medical exams about six years apart, 3,261 married couples were asked about their exercise habits.

If a wife reported being physically active at the first doctor’s visit, then her husband was 70% more likely to also be exercising by the second visit six years later. The reverse was also true, as wives of men who were active at the first visit were 40% more likely to be moving by the second visit.

"We all know how important exercise is to staying healthy," said Cobb. "This study tells us that one spouse could have a really positive impact on the other when it comes to staying fit and healthy for the long haul."

So, if you’re still looking to start that New Year’s resolution to get moving and eat right, get your better half involved and both of you should be able to get it done together.

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Apr 13 2015

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