People are more likely to quit smoking, start working out and lose weight if their domestic partner also makes a healthy change, according to a new study of married couples in England.
Couples tend to share unhealthy behaviors, but this is the first time researchers looked at a large population to see if people are more likely to change when they change together.
Collaborating might make healthy behaviors easier to adopt, and having a partner who does not join in might make it harder, said the researchers.
More than 3,500 married or cohabiting couples over age 50 in England first completed health behavior questionnaires around the year 2000 and have been followed up with subsequent questionnaires and nurse visits.
For smoking couples, only eight percent of men whose partners kept smoking were able to quit. But when partners also gave up smoking, 48 percent of men were successful in their own attempt. The numbers were similar for female smokers.
Almost 70 percent of men increased their physical activity levels when their partners joined them, compared to 26 percent of men whose partners did not.
For weight loss, 15 percent of women managed to lose at least 5 percent of their body weight while their partner did not lose weight, but 36 percent lost their weight if their partners did too.
Odds of success were highest if partners made a change and became newly healthy, rather than if partners were healthy to start with.
However, smokers coupled with nonsmokers were still more likely to quit, and physically inactive people paired with an active person were more likely to get moving, compared to those who were paired with people more similar to themselves, the researchers found.
For people who were overweight, having a healthy-weight partner did not increase their odds of losing weight. But if one overweight partner started to lose weight, the other’s odds of losing weight tripled.
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