Spouses May Inspire Healthy Lifestyle
Husbands and Wives Are Often Each Other's Role Models for Healthy Habits
July 11, 2007 -- Spouses may inspire each other to adopt a healthy
lifestyle, according to a new study on marriage and health.
"We find that when one spouse changes a poor health behavior, the other
spouse is likely to change behavior as well," write researchers Tracy
Falba, PhD, and Jody Sindelar, PhD.
So if you want your spouse to adopt some healthy habits, you might take the
lead and make that change yourself.
Falba is a visiting assistant professor of economics at Duke University.
Sindelar is a professor at Yale University's department of epidemiology and
They studied data on more than 6,000 U.S. adults who were married (and
stayed married to the same person) from 1996 to 2000.
The husbands and wives completed surveys about exercise, smoking, alcohol
use, flu shots, and cholesterol screening in 1996 and 2000.
The researchers focused on husbands and wives who smoked, drank, and didn't
exercise or get flu shots or cholesterol tests in 1996. The key question: Who
had upgraded their health habits by 2000?
Spouse as Healthy Lifestyle Role Model
Falba and Sindelar considered many factors, including medical diagnoses that
might shock husbands or wives into paying more attention to their health.
Across the board, husbands and wives tended to follow in each other's
footsteps in adopting healthy habits.
Spouses were five to six times more likely to quit smoking, quit drinking,
and to start getting flu shots if their spouse started doing so during the
Spouses were about 50% more likely to start exercising and about 80% more
likely to get a cholesterol test if their spouse started doing so, the study
It didn't matter who made those changes first. Husbands and wives influenced
each other equally.
It's not clear if the spouses quietly inspired each other through their
example, or whether they asked their spouse to join them in their new healthy
For instance, a wife who quit smoking might get rid of the ashtrays in the
house and ask her husband not to smoke around her. Or a husband might inspire
his wife to exercise by starting his own fitness program.
"Family members, especially spouses, have important impacts on each
other, and we have shown that this influence extends to health behaviors,"
write Falba and Sindelar.
"Thus, attempts to change behavior may be enhanced, or thwarted, by the
behavior of family members, especially spouses," the researchers add.
The study appears in the advance online edition of Health Services
- When you do something to improve your health, do you find that your spouse
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