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Older couples influence each other to make positive health changes

Study says they help to change behavior in smoking, exercise, weight loss

Two older couples jogging togetherJan. 20, 2015 – A study of older couples finds both men and women are more likely to quit smoking, become physically active and lose weight if their partner joins them in the new healthy behavior. And, the difference is significant - 66 percent of senior women take up physical exercise if her husband does and only 24 percent if he does not.

Modifiable lifestyles and health-related behaviors are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Evidence has suggested people tend to exhibit the health behaviors of people around them and that partners can influence each other’s behavior, according to the study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Sarah E. Jackson, Ph.D., of University College London, England, and coauthors examined the influence of a partner’s behavior on making positive health behavior changes. The authors used data from 3,722 senior married couples - ages 50 and older - and those living together who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Smoking cessation, increased physical activity and a 5 percent or greater weight loss were measured.


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The authors found that when one partner changed to a healthier behavior the other partner was more likely to make a positive behavior change than if their partner remained unhealthy.

The changes measured -

>> stops smoking:

     ● men, 48 percent vs. 8 percent;
     ● women, 50 percent vs. 8 percent

>> increases physical activity:

     ● men, 67 percent vs. 26 percent;
     ● women, 66 percent vs. 24 percent and

>> weight loss:
     ● men, 26 percent vs. 10 percent;
     ● women, 36 percent vs. 15 percent.

Smokers with consistently nonsmoking partners and physically inactive people with consistently active partners had higher odds of quitting smoking and becoming physically active. Having an unhealthy partner in either of these cases who became newly healthy made the odds even higher for making a positive change, according to the results.

However, the results indicate that for overweight individuals, having partners whose body-mass index (BMI) was consistently in the normal range did not increase the odds of losing weight, but having an overweight partner who lost weight too was associated with three times the odds of weight loss.

For each health behavior, men and women were significantly more likely to make positive changes if their partner also changed their health behavior over the same period than if their partner was consistently healthy, according to the study.

“The present findings have implications for the design and delivery of interventions aimed at reducing the risk of morbidity and mortality. Given that partners have a mutual influence on one another’s behavior, behavior change interventions could be more effective if they targeted couples as opposed to individuals,” the study concludes.

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