Change Unhealthy Behaviors As a Couple

Health Writer

Are you having a hard time keeping your New Year's Resolution to lose weight, quit smoking or exercise more? You might want to ask your partner to join you in making healthy changes. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people are more successful in switching unhealthy habits for healthy habits if their partner also makes the change.

Researchers at the University College London looked at information from 3,722 couples, all of whom were taking part in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the National Institute of Aging.

The results of the study showed that 50 percent of women who smoked quit when their partner quit at the same time. Only 17 percent of women quit smoking if their partners didn't smoke and only 8 percent quit if their partners continued to smoke. The men in the study were also apt to choose healthy habits, such as losing weight, becoming active and quitting smoking, if their partner made the same healthy choice.

Professor Jane Wardle, one of the authors of the study, points out the "Unhealthy lifestyles are a leading cause of death from chronic disease worldwide." With many people around the world making New Year's resolutions to get healthier in the New Year, the researchers encourage couples to do it together and increase both people's chances of succeeding.

Tips for Getting Healthy as a Couple

Start your day together. Enjoy a healthy breakfast together. If you both are used to rushing out the door and then grabbing something quick on the way to work, changes are you are both eating an unhealthy breakfast. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier and start the day sharing a nutritious breakfast. Not only will you avoid the stop for a donut, you start your day with a few minutes of togetherness. You can take this time to review your fitness and health goals and look at what you have accomplished as well as talk about any goals you have for the day ahead.

Consider snacking choices. If you, or your partner, enjoy snacking at night while watching television, replace unhealthy snacks with healthy choices. Buy grapes, nuts and other healthy foods (nuts have a lot of calories so put out a small bowl of nuts instead of bringing out the whole jar.) Pop light popcorn instead of eating chips or cookies.

Take a walk together after work or dinner. Instead of rushing home, why not make plans to meet at the park for a short walk. A 10 or 15 minute walk is healthier than going home, making dinner and then sitting on the couch. If you have children, see if you can delay picking them up to spend time together or make it a family outing.

Talk about healthy meal plans. You don't have to change your entire eating habits at once. Talk about the small changes you can make, such as using brown rice instead of white rice. Commit to making one small, healthy change each week or each month. Start incorporating that change into your nightly meals.

When going out to eat, skip the bread. Your dinner is probably enough to fill you up, the bread is extra calories you don't need, especially if you plan to order dessert. Choose broiled or baked entrees rather than fried. You don't have to give up your date night dinners, you only need to make a few adjustments when ordering.

Find an activity that allows you to work out together. You might join a gym, ride bikes, go kayaking, run together or take a walk. Working out together helps you motivate one another, gives you a chance to spend time together and get fit at the same time.

Show an active interest in each other's health. You don't want to make it a competition or put the other person down for not reaching a health goal, eating something unhealthy or skipping the daily workout, but you do want to show you are interested in the other person's health, because the healthier they are, the better chance you will be together a long time.

Set goals together. You might both have similar goals, such as losing weight, or one of you wants to lose weight while the other wants to maintain weight. One of you might have health goals, such as lowering blood pressure. Write down your goals and congratulate each other each time a goal is reached.