Thanks to something called “assortative mating,” we tend to choose mates that have behaviors similar to our own.
Too often, however, that means our bad habits are their bad habits, too. Smoking? Couch potato? A sweet tooth? Birds of a feather, goes the old saying.
Thankfully, when we finally wise up and decide to ditch those bad habits, having a partner can make getting healthy a lot easier says a new study.
The study by researchers at University College London, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, found that men and women were more likely to make positive changes in their health habits if their partners were also making the same changes.
“Men and women are more likely to make a positive health behavior change if their partner does too,”
For the study, researchers turned to data collected from 3,722 middle-aged and older couples, married or cohabiting and over age 50, as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Participants periodically responded to questions about their health behaviors.
Researchers focused on three health behaviors: smoking, engaging in physical activity, and losing weight, and what effect, if any, it had on the health habits of a partner.
Seventeen percent of the participants quit smoking, 44% of inactive participants became physically active, and 15% of participants who were overweight lost more than 5% of their body weight. These results were greatly influenced by the behaviors of their partners.
For example, just 8% of participants whose partners continued to smoke managed to quit. By contrast, 48% of male smokers and 50% of women smokers were able to stop smoking if their partner quit with them.
In sedentary adults, the findings were similar. More than two-thirds of inactive women and 67% of inactive men successfully increased physical activity when their partners were doing the same. On the other hand, only 24% of women and 26% of men became more active when their partners did not.
And for weight loss, 36% of women and 26% of men successfully lost weight when their partners were trying to lose weight, compared to just 15% of women and 10% of men who had to go it alone.
The study authors wrote, “Men and women are more likely to make a positive health behavior change if their partner does too, and with a stronger effect than if the partner had been consistently healthy in that domain.”
“Involving partners in behavior change interventions may therefore help improve outcomes,” they concluded.
The Bottom Line
Whether it’s due to having mutual support or friendly competition, enlisting a partner can help you to reach your healthy goals. In fact, if you’ve set your New Year’s resolutions and put them off or not yet reached them, now’s a good time to start together.
And even if you don’t have a romantic partner who wants to get healthier, who says you can’t team up with a friend or a social group to meet your shared goals? After all, another study finds that social networks, like online networks for weight loss, contribute to greater total weight loss.
If one of your health goals is to increase your physical activity, you’ll not only be more successful if you enlist a partner, but you’ll look and feel younger, too. Another recent study from London showed that active older people resemble much younger people physiologically and enjoy extra years of function compared to sedentary people.
So with benefits like looking and feeling younger, living better and longer, and increasing your chances of achieving success, why wouldn’t you grab a partner and start building healthy habits together? Like the song says, it takes two, baby!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.