Couples More Likely to Make Healthy Changes Together

senior couple in swim cap and goggles smile at one another

A new study suggests what you may have known in your heart all along: It’s easier to make healthy changes such as quitting smoking, getting more exercise, and losing weight if your significant other changes too.

In fact, the study shows that individuals are more likely to be successful if their partner changes with them than if their partner were practicing healthy habits all along.

Other studies have shown that couples tend to share unhealthy behaviors, but this is the first to look at couples’ changes to healthy behaviors in a large population. The study was published online January 19, 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers from University College in London looked at data from 3,722 couples participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. As part of this long-term study, couples age 50 or older who were married or living together answered regular questionnaires about their health habits and underwent health exams.

The study found that both men and women were more likely to make healthy changes if their partner made a change as well.

For example, among women who smoked, 50% quit smoking if their partner quit too, compared with 17% of women whose partners were already non-smokers, and 8% of those whose partners were smokers and didn’t quit. The numbers were similar for male smokers.

More than 60% of inactive men and women increased their physical activity after their inactive partner became active. This compared with only about 25% who increased their physical activity while their partner did not.

Among men and women who were overweight, having a partner who also lost weight was associated with about 3 times the likelihood of weight loss. Having a partner who was already at a healthy weight did not increase the chances of losing weight.

“Making lifestyle changes can make a huge difference to our health and cancer risk, and this study shows that when couples make those changes together they are more likely to be successful,” said Julie Sharp, PhD, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, in a statement.

Lifestyle changes to lower cancer risk

Making healthy choices can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other diseases.

The American Cancer Society recommends:

  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Getting to and staying at a healthy weight
  • Engaging in physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

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The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
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The Influence of Partner’s Behavior on Health Behavior Change: The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Published online January 19, 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine. First author Sarah E. Jackson, PhD, University College London, London.

American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.