How Your Partner Can Keep You Fit Forever

Couples play an important role in ensuring each other’s fitness, as new research reveals

If you're constantly tugging at your partner to get off the couch, chances are you'll start spending more time on the sofa as well. That's the scary news from a recent study presented at the American Heart Association.

To explore health and fitness issues of couples, researchers from Johns Hopkins and other institutions mined data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study—a ponderous name for a treasure trove of information gleaned from thousands of Americans. The researchers looked at healthy married couples with an average age of 55, most of whom had answered study questionnaires at least twice over the years.

The two key questions: Had either spouse altered exercise habits between questionnaires? Had the couple's exercise routines converged or diverged during those years?

Here are the surprising—let's call them encouraging—findings:

Spouses do influence each other's exercise habits, more than previously acknowledged. Changes in one spouse's routine tended to be echoed in the other's, proof that our exercise commitments are not tied solely to the strength of our resolve; they can be fortified or derailed by the people we're close to.

If a woman met the standard (30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week) during her first questionnaire and her husband did not, he was 70% more likely to meet that standard six years later than the men whose spouses did not exercise much…as long as the woman was still exercising regularly.

The findings were similar when the scenario was flipped: if a husband met the exercise standard during the first questionnaire and his wife did not, she was about 40% more likely to meet that standard a few years later than were women married to couch potatoes.

Here's the downside: If one spouse slowed down or quit exercise during the years between questionnaires, his or her spouse usually did the same.

The leader of the study, Laura Cobb, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, confirms that "spouses can play an outsized role" in exercise behavior in middle age and beyond. She recommends upping your own exercise game right now to inspire your spouse. Remember, if you can't get your mate off the couch, there's a good chance you might end up there too. Add oomph to your workout resolutions, for you and your spouse, with Life Reimagined's 5-day program, Exercise Your Power.