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Want to Get Fit? It Might Take Two

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Agata Kowalewska, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Did you make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, stop smoking, or exercise more? If so, you certainly aren’t alone. According to research at the University of Scranton, all of these worthy ambitions were in the top 10 most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2014, with losing weight topping the charts at #1.

Making It Stick

Of course, you may also be aware that these resolutions frequently fail. Some studies cite a dismal 8% success rate. Are there any ways to increase the chances that you’ll be among the fortunate (or persistent) few? Though it didn’t specifically focus on New Year’s resolutions, a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that you might do a lot better if your partner attempts the same changes as you—or has recently succeeded at doing so.

In this study, over 3700 married or cohabiting British adults (many over age 50) were followed for about four years. Their smoking status, amount of daily exercise, and weight loss or gain were tracked during that time, and compared to that of their partners.

How Your Spouse Influences You

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that people whose partners didn’t have healthy habits didn’t improve much over time. However, what about people whose spouses or partners were doing a good job—not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising? Did that positive example help? It did, mostly when it came to smoking and exercise.

But having a partner who was consistently fit and/or healthy was not as helpful as having a partner who started out less healthy–but made a change for the better while the couple was living together.

Success is Contagious

In other words, it’s certainly a good thing for your health if you have a mate who’s always been a nonsmoker or who likes to run. But if your overweight partner slims down, your smoking spouse kicks the habit, or your couch potato boyfriend starts jogging, you have a much better chance of succeeding at making similar changes yourself.

Some of these people might have been inspired by seeing their partner succeed:  If they can do it, maybe I can too. Or the healthy efforts of one partner (like cooking more and better-quality meals) might naturally affect the other.

But chances are pretty good that many of these couples followed a strategy that’s often recommended: they decided to turn over a new leaf together. Other studies also suggest that when spouses work together to change their habits, they see better results. So if you’re struggling with that New Year’s resolution, consider trying to bring your spouse or partner on board. Maybe this will finally be your year.

(Photo credit: UF/IFAS file photo.)

References:

Jackson, S.E., Steptoe, A., & Wardle, J. (2015). The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA Internal Medicine. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.7554

New year’s resolution statistics. Retrieved from http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/