New research suggests the key to improving your health may be sitting across from you at the breakfast table.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health discovered if one spouse improves his or her exercise regimen, the other spouse is much more likely to follow suit.
The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore.
Dr. Silvia Koton, lead investigator Dr. Laura Cobb, and their colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that rather than having each partner employ an individual health coach, a better way is if the couple receives advice together.
“It was well known that spouses exhibit similar risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, but it wasn’t clear how an individual’s level of physical activity was influenced by changes in his or her spouse’s level of physical activity,” said Koton.
“Our study tells us that spouses can have a positive impact on one another in terms of staying fit and healthy over time.”
For the purpose of the study, the researchers examined records from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, which in 1987 began following a group of 15,792 middle-aged adults from communities in Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Mississippi.
Koton and her colleagues analyzed data from two medical visits conducted roughly six years apart. At each visit, the researchers asked 3,261 spouse pairs about their physical activity levels.
Researchers compared participants’ exercise habits to standards recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The guideline recommends that adults should exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 150 minutes per week or at a vigorous intensity for at least 75 minutes per week.
In the study, researchers found that during the first visit, 45 percent of husbands and 33 percent of wives met these recommendations. Six years later, they found that when a wife met recommended levels of exercise at the first visit, her husband was 70 percent more likely to meet those levels at subsequent visits than those whose wives were less physically active.
Likewise, when a husband met recommended exercise levels, his wife was 40 percent more likely to meet the levels at follow-up visits.
“Our findings suggest that physical activity promotion efforts should consider targeting couples,” said Koton.
The study of theoretical models and mechanisms, which may explain changes in the levels of physical activity in couples over time, is a promising area for future research, she says.