You may have more success in accomplishing a healthy living goal if your partner is
making a similar change. This was the conclusion of a new study that examined the influence of
partner behavior on people’s attempts to live more healthily.
You are more likely to succeed at getting physically active and making other healthy changes if your partner does the same.
Reporting their findings in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from University
College London (UCL) in the UK, found men and women were more likely to make a positive health
behavior change if their partner was also making a change.
Co-author Jane Wardle, Professor of Clinical Psychology at UCL, says:
“Unhealthy lifestyles are a leading cause of death from chronic disease worldwide. The key
lifestyle risks are smoking, excess weight, physical inactivity, poor diet and alcohol
For their study, Prof. Wardle and colleagues looked at how likely people were to quit
smoking, become physically active or lose weight relative to what their partners did.
Their data came from a study of 3,722 co-habiting couples in their 50s and older. They were
all participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).
People were more likely to quit smoking, exercise, lose weight as couples
Among the participants, 175 (17% of smokers) gave up smoking, 1,037 (44% of inactive
participants) became physically active, and 335 who were overweight (15% of overweight
participants) shed more than 5% of their body weight.
The researchers found that men and women were more likely to give up smoking, become
physically active or lose weight if their partner also made the same change.
For instance, 50% of women smokers were able to give up smoking if their partner quit at the
same time. This compared with only 8% whose partners continued to smoke.
There were similar rates of success for men – 48% quitted successfully when their partner
gave up compared with only 8% whose partners continued to smoke.
Even for those who tried to give up when their partner was already a non-smoker, the success
rates were not as good as when their partner was also doing it.
In the two other areas the patterns were very similar – 66% of physically inactive women and
67% of physically inactive men successfully increased physical activity when their partner was
doing the same, compared with only 24% of women and 26% of men whose partners were not.
In tackling weight loss, 36% of women (26% of men) trying to lose weight succeeded when their
partner was doing the same, compared with only 15% of women (10% of men) whose partners were
Team up to ensure success in swapping bad habits for good and reduce risk of disease
Prof. Wardle, who is also Director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre
at UCL, says:
“Swapping bad habits for good ones can reduce the risk of disease, including cancer.”
Lead author Dr. Sarah Jackson, a research associate working on the ELSA study at UCL,
“Now is the time to make New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking, take exercise, or lose
weight. And doing it with your partner increases your chances of success.”
The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the National
Institute on Aging.
Even if you don’t have a partner who is making similar changes, then you could perhaps team
up with a friend or colleague who also wants to lose weight, get fit or give up smoking. You
could join a gym together, a quit smoking group together or a weight loss program together. You
could meet at lunchtime or after work for a swim or a jog or a brisk walk.
There are many ways of becoming more physically active and improve health beyond the
traditional view of exercise. For example, in December 2014, Medical News Today learned
of a group of researchers that showed yoga is comparable to
walking and biking in reducing risks of cardiovascular disease.
Written by Catharine Paddock PhD