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Couples Have Easier Time Kicking Bad Habits When They Work Together

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Couples have an easier time quitting bad habits when they undertake the task together, according to new research.

University College London (UCL)  researchers examined the role couples can play in helping partners adopt healthy lifestyles. Investigators studied 33,722 couples, aged 50 and older, who lived together, and were participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Patterns of smoking, physical activity and weight loss efforts were examined. Couples in the study completed questionnaires every two years, and underwent a health screening every 48 months. The study found that couples who had similar health goals were more likely than others to reach their targets for better living.

Of the participants who were overweight at the beginning of the study, 335 (15 percent of the total population examined) lost five percent or more of their body weight. Around 17 percent of smokers gave up the habit, and 44 percent of people with sedentary lifestyles became more active.

"Unhealthy lifestyles are a leading cause of death from chronic disease worldwide. The key lifestyle risks are smoking, excess weight, physical inactivity, poor diet and alcohol consumption," Jane Wardle, Professor of Clinical Psychology at UCL, said.

Support from partners during these changes was found to positively affect men and women equally.

Women who were trying to quit smoking were successful 50 percent of the time if their partners were also making the same change. That compares to a success rate of just eight percent among those who lived with tobacco-using partners. Men had similar results, measured at 48 and eight percent, respectively. These numbers also show a higher success rate than if a partner did not smoke at all.

Among men and women, roughly two-thirds of those who worked toward becoming more physically active were able to do so if their partners were also working toward that goal. This compares to a success rate of 26 percent of men and 24 percent of women with sedentary partners.

Researchers on the study recommend that people without life partners, or those without partners able and willing to change with them, could seek out others for support. Examples of this might include a gym partner, a friend who also wants to lose weight, or a co-worker also looking to quit the tobacco habit.

Yoga is becoming far more popular today than it was in the past, including among older people. Recent studies show the low-impact exercise is just as effective as bicycle riding and walking at increasing heart health.

The Influence of Partner's Behavior on Health Behavior Change, an article detailing the new study, was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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