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How Couples Can Team Up to Get Healthy

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WebMD Magazine - Feature

You and your spouse or partner may be best friends, but are you allies when it comes to getting in shape, eating well, and living a healthy lifestyle?

For many couples, the answer is no, say psychology professors Thomas Bradbury, PhD, and Benjamin Karney, PhD. They are co-directors of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and co-authors of the recent book Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together.

Over the past 2 decades the professors videotaped thousands of young married couples to study how couples communicate. They found that many important conversations revolved around health. "Often we'd see couples in which both partners wanted to get healthier, but they just weren't getting traction," Bradbury says.

But some couples do make it work, he says. Here's what they do (and don't do) to achieve a healthy lifestyle together:

DO model healthy living. "Switch to nonfat milk, for example, or order the chicken sandwich instead of the hamburger," Bradbury says. "Small things that we see modeled in our relationship start to become the norm."

DON'T simply make suggestions if your partner struggles with their weight. Focus your energy on understanding the problem. "Sometimes the most effective thing to do is say something like, 'Tell me what's behind your need to lose weight,'" Bradbury says.

DO think long term. Good health takes work, so discuss the rewards to be reaped in years to come, like playing with your grandkids. Bradbury says, "Tell your partner, 'I want to be with you for a long, long time.' That can be a powerful message. And chocolate cake every day isn't consistent with that."

DON'T criticize. Instead, encourage. Notice when your spouse or partner orders a salad or takes a walk. That will help them stay optimistic.

DO return to healthy activities you did as a younger couple, like taking walks together or playing tennis. "Incorporate those kinds of health-promoting activities into your identity as a couple again," Bradbury says.

Q&A

Q: "I exercise a lot already, and I'd like to get my husband into working out as well. What's the best way to motivate and encourage him without sounding like a nag?"-- Anne Rudwick, 35, department administrator, Portland, OR.

A: "When we share a life and a household with someone, we have ways of shaping their environment to make healthy behaviors easier. Does your husband like Netflix? Buy a treadmill and plant it in front of the TV. Does he complain he doesn't have time to get to the gym? Buy him that time by taking care of the kids a few nights a week. Maybe he'll get behind biking, or hiking, or salsa dancing. Find the activity he likes, and make it easier for him to do it. No nagging required."--Benjamin Karney, PhD

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of "WebMD Magazine." 

Reviewed on March 09, 2014

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