Newsletter Article

Spousal Influence on Healthy Behaviors

Marriage typically involves a lot of sharing – sharing of a household, sharing finances, and often sharing child-rearing responsibilities. Researchers have begun to explore the extent to which married couples share healthy (or unhealthy) behaviors as a potential strategy to increase physical activity and improve dietary habits that may eventually help ward off lifestyle related chronic diseases.

A recent study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health used questionnaires to determine married couples’ physical activity by looking at their sport/exercise index and their leisure index.[1] Over six years, a change in physical activity in one spouse was positively associated with the other spouse. If one spouse was meeting physical activity recommendations at the first visit, the other spouse was significantly more likely to also meet the physical activity recommendations. Men who were not physically active at the first visit were more likely to begin meeting recommendations if their spouse met the physical activity recommendations at their first and last visits.

When it comes dietary habits, some findings show a similar influential relationship. In a study involving patients diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, food interaction was measured between the patients and their spouses.[2] All spouses reported that they provided some type of diet-related support in the past month. However, when the spouses pressured their partners to improve their dietary habits, this resulted in an increase in diabetes distress among patients. When the spouses shared meals with their diabetic partner, a decrease in diabetes distress occurred. In a comparison between pressuring a spouse to eat healthy versus actually sharing meals, the shared meals showed a significant reduction in stress for the patients.

We influence people close to us whether we realize it or not. When a couple spends a lot of time together, they tend to take on each other’s habits, both good and bad. By taking part in regular physical activity and making healthy dietary choices, you may not only be improving your own health, but also that of your partner.