Aging & Longevity
Older couples influence each other to make positive
Study says they help to change behavior in smoking,
exercise, weight loss
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
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
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
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
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