Study: Healthy Habits May be More Attainable for Couples that Work Together

New research shows that adopting healthy habits may be easier when our partners embrace them too

A recent study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine found that when one partner in a relationship adopted a new healthy habit, compared to if they had remained “unhealthy,” the other partner was more likely to also adopt a new healthy habit.

The goal of this study was to examine the influence of being partnered with someone who takes up a new healthy habit, rather than someone who is already considered to be “consistently healthy.”

Researchers in the U.K. examined data from 3,722 married and cohabitating couples participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which largely includes adults age 50 and older, and found their odds of ending a smoking habit, losing weight, and sticking to an exercise plan greatly increased when their partners made the same lifestyle change.

“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,” the study’s authors concluded. “Involving partners in behavior change interventions may therefore help improve outcomes.”

Statistically, participants’ chances of losing weight increased by a factor of three when they had a spouse who lost weight, participants were five times more likely to exercise regularly when they had a spouse who increased their levels of physical activity, and participants were 11 times more likely to quit smoking when they had a spouse who quit too.

“The study shows that ‘changing together’ is associated with even better outcomes than even having a partner with a consistently healthy lifestyle,” study researcher Jane Wardle, a psychology professor and director of the health behavior research center at the University College London told Live Science.

The researchers found that when it comes to smoking and exercise, having a consistently healthy partner also had a positive impact, but this association didn’t hold true for weight loss.

Although these are the results of just one small study and researchers are still unclear on why couples may be more motivated to adopt healthier habits when working together, Wardle still speculates that the results are convincing and predicted that data from younger couples would likely show the same patterns.