There’s no question that genetics play a huge role in your quality of life. They determine your height, your facial features, and the color of your hair, and they can even play a role in determining the diseases to which you might be susceptible. Some people are born with genetic mutations or come by them more easily based on their genetics.
But genetics only go so far. So much more of your life is determined by your environment and the people you learn from and spend time with, along with the habits you adopt. Your environment and social circles often determine your lifestyle, diet, and recreational activities.
And new research is showing that when it comes to your health, you’re more likely to make—and stick to—improvements if you’re doing it with a close friend, partner, or spouse.
What the Numbers Say
According to new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, people are more successful in making healthy lifestyle changes if their partner makes positive changes, too. For example, they found that 50% of women who smoked were able to quit smoking if their partner did as well. That number dropped to 17% when the women had partners who didn’t smoke, and all the way down to eight percent if their partners continued to smoke. Men were just as affected by their partners’ decisions to throw away bad habits, and they were more likely to drop unhealthy habits and pick up new, healthy ones if their partners did.
Lifestyle decisions and unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor dietary decisions are a major contributor to a number of chronic diseases across the globe. The choices you make and the things you do or don’t do can ultimately shorten your life and increase your chances of a premature and painful death, so finding motivation to make the appropriate changes is as important as anything else. Swapping your bad habits for good ones can lower your risk for cancer, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and liver disease—to name just a few of the big ones.
The study looked at 3,722 couples that were either married or living together and were over 50 years old. They examined how likely these people were to quit smoking, increase activity, and lose weight relative to their partners.
Support Can Be the Cornerstone of Success
Willpower, planning, and execution are essential for somebody looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but it’s very easy to overlook the importance of support. When you have somebody to push you, understand what you’re going through, and match your effort every step of the way, it can be a big boost for your confidence and provide all kinds of added motivation. Nobody ever accomplished anything entirely on their own; having the support of a team—especially the support of somebody you love—can make your goals much more attainable.
Making a lifestyle change with the person closest to you is a great way to get the support you need. Furthermore, it allows you to undergo a new experience together that can improve your relationship. And even if you don’t want to undertake a change with your partner, you can always ask a friend to join a fitness class, go for a walk, or try to kick a bad habit. As long as you’re not alone, you have some support, and a person to whom you’re accountable—and vice versa—you’re likely to reach your goals.
Diet and lifestyle are so closely tied to the people we live with. Depending on who’s making the meals and what you’re used to doing for fun, it can be very difficult to break the unhealthy habits you might have shared for so long. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that you’re bound to the decisions of others. If you’ve talked to your partner about making some changes and they balk at the idea, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your dreams for a healthier existence—and once they see your progress they might even follow suit.
Control Your Environment
If you want to start pursuing a more active lifestyle, eating a healthier diet, or getting rid of some bad habits, coming up with alternatives is essential. This way you keep busy and don’t allow yourself the opportunity to slip back into your old ways. We already talked about how asking your partner or a friend to be more active with you is an option, but you can also consider joining an existing exercise group in your community that allows you to meet and build relationships with like-minded people.
You can also consider keeping a journal in which you write about your accomplishments or scribble down some encouraging words of support for yourself that you can look back on later if you find you’re struggling.
If you do the majority of the cooking in your household, start making health-conscious meals. If your partner doesn’t like them, tell them they are free to make whatever they want—it just means there will be more of the good stuff for you! If your partner does the cooking, then you have to get comfortable in the kitchen, so you can prepare meals to fit your goals. Controlling your environment is key!
One of the most difficult things to do is to find things to fill the time you’d normally spend drinking, being sedentary, or participating in the activities that might be harming you. Therefore, scheduling is also important. When you might have gone home and watched television after work, schedule a walk with your partner or a trip to the gym. Or on nights when you might have sat around drinking with friends, schedule a social outing or a games night where drinks are either not available or in short supply. Once again, control your environment to achieve success.
With lifestyle playing such a big role in chronic disease risk and mortality, making healthier decisions is an important factor in your well being. Try increasing your chances of success by committing with your partner to swap bad habits for good ones and to live more healthfully!
Sources for Today’s Article:
Cancer Research UK, “Couples more likely to get healthy together,” ScienceDaily web site, January 19, 2015; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150119124551.htm.