Couples more likely to get healthier if they do it together

It is this time of year when millions of us will be struggling with motivation to quit smoking, getting fit or losing weight.  It appears though that positive changes are all easier to make if your partner is on the same health kick, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The research found that people were more successful in swapping bad habits for good ones if their partner made a change as well.  A large body of evidence suggests that people adopt the sorts of behaviour they see around them – and in particular that of their spouses. Couples tend to have similar drinking, smoking, physical activity and eating patterns. 

The new study, funded by Cancer Research UK, looked at 3,722 couples, either married or living together and over the age of 50.   Among women who smoked, 50% managed to quit if their partner gave up smoking too at the same time, compared with 17% of women whose partners were already non-smokers, and 8% of those whose partners continued to be regular smokers. Among men, 48% managed to stop compared with 8% who were living with a regular smoker.

Two thirds of men and women managed to become more physically active if their partner did, compared with a quarter of people whose partner remained inactive. The figures for weight loss were not quite as marked – 26% of men lost more than 5% of their bodyweight if their partner did, compared with 10% of those whose partner did not attempt to change, while 36% of women hit the target if their partner did, compared with 15% of those whose partner remained the same weight.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s head of health information, said: ““Keeping healthy by not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight and being active can all lower the risk of cancer, and the more people can help and encourage each other the better.”