So your New Years’ resolution to lose a couple pounds didn’t work out. All the self-motivation, Pinterest fitness boards and those cute new sneakers just couldn’t sway the scale the way you wanted it to. But you made a schedule, right? You went to the gym at least three times a week and cut down on the desserts, so why are you not seeing any results? Perhaps the reason is you’re trying to make the change on your own.
According to a recent study by scientists at University College London, people are more likely to exchange a bad habit for a good one if their partner makes the change too. Also, people are more likely to pick up a healthy habit if their significant other does it with them. To justify their conclusion, the scientists from UCL point to the statistics for the women who tried to give up smoking; 50% of the women who smoked gave up the habit when their partner gave up smoking at the same time, compared to 17% who stopped smoking when their partner was already a non-smoker.
“Swapping bad habits for good ones can reduce the risk of disease, including cancer,” said Professor Jane Wardle in an interview with Science Daily. Wardle is one of the study authors as well as the director of Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre at UCL. “Now is the time to make New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking, take exercise, or lose weight. And doing it with your partner increases your chances of success.”
We live in a world where the media and our society flood us with health awareness messages—smoking will ruin your skin, buy this machine to have fabulous arms, this is what you should do to lose weight fast. The emphasis on our health can be overwhelming, and the best way to make a positive health change can be difficult to find. However, having your partner by your side making a healthy change with you can make it easier.
“It’s fun for us,” Deanna Fyffe, a second year student at Miami University, said about working out and staying healthy with her boyfriend Nestor Semenyuk, also a second year student. Fyffe and Semenyuk try to go to the Rec Center at least three times a week and cook a healthy meal together at least once a week.
“She isn’t just a peer; Deanna is a role model to me. So it’s even more incentive to go to the gym or eat better or just stay healthy when I’m doing it with her,” Semenyuk said.
“We spend so much time together; it’s easy to hold each other accountable for what we eat too because we eat together a lot,” Fyffe said.
“They are going to hold you accountable, rather than just yourself,” said Professor Jessica Maureen Harris from Miami University’s College of Education, Health and Society, “so those interpersonal relationships with other people, they really do help motivate one and hold people accountable, which is key when you’re goal-setting… Often times we’re going to hit those barriers, and we’re going to need somebody to help push [us] through.”
In 2012, Professor Harris co-authored an article, Trek Across Maine 25th Anniversary: A Public Health Strategy to Increase Physical Activity, that examined strategies that promote physical activity based on data from the annual Trek Across Maine. Trek Across Maine is an annual 3-day, 180 mile cycling event in Maine that raises money for the American Lung Association. The research found that goal-setting and family-based social support, like cohabitating couples in the study at UCL, are key to helping people become more physically active. You can read the full article here.
Although the study at UCL focused on couples promoting positive health changes together, a family member, close friend or coworker could act as the significant other who also makes the health change and helps by holding the person accountable. Your best friend or roommate could be your perfect workout partner, but they could also be a barrier to you achieving your health goal.
“Often your friends can be the ones that are putting those barriers,” Professor Harris said. “There’s always going to be a barrier, and I think that’s where you have to find that balance. Because you want to keep your relationships, but you also want them to understand that this is a priority for me.”
Professor Harris also emphasizes the importance of time management, noting that the hardest part can often be putting your shoes on and getting the gym—especially when it’s below freezing and snowing!
“Behavior change is the hardest thing a person can do,” Professor Harris said. “Just find those individuals that you have a common connection with who can hold you accountable and give you that push.”