Changing a Bad Habit? Partner Up

It’s tough change a bad habit. It’s tough to adopt a good habit too. Losing weight, quitting smoking, hitting the gym—all difficult. But less difficult if you have a partner.

According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, smokers were more likely to quit if their partners also quit, people lost more weight if their partners joined them in weight loss, and both men and women worked out more if their partners joined them at the gym. For data, researchers used the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, which tracks the physical activity, smoking habits, and weight loss patterns of 3,722 married English couples. According to the study, couples who support each other in reducing their bad habits and improving their own health do better than those going it alone.

Amongst smokers going it alone, only 8% of people trying to quit did so, but 50% of smokers managed to butt out if their partners quit too. When it comes to exercising, only a quarter of people trying to work out alone managed to stick to it, but 70% managed to make a habit of it if their partners joined them. In terms of weight loss (researchers confined themselves to subjects who lost 5% of their body weight), men trying to lose weight alone only had a 10% chance of success (the number was 15% for women), but a quarter of men losing weight with their partners were successful (35% for women).

So what’s at play here? We suspect old-fashioned marital competition is a factor, along with encouragement and support. After all, do you want your wife to beat you? Exactly.



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