Your Exercise Habits can Influence your Spouse

Wednesday April 22, 2015

As reported in the NY Times, a new study, presented by scientists at the American Heart Association meeting at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore revealed that data collected from married couples over a period of many years since late 1980s may give us a better understanding of how one spouse’s exercise habit may influence the other.

The sample group consisted of 3,261 healthy middle age married couples who filled out the questionnaires at least two times, about six years apart.  The average age of these couples was 55.  The researchers focused on whether the husband or wife performed at least 30 minutes of moderate exercises at least five times a week (standard recommendation for exercise to improve health) and reported this fact on their questionnaire.  The scientists then looked at the data from a future questionnaire to learn if the husband or wife had changed his or her exercise habits between questionnaires.

What was revealed upon reviewing the data was that the responses were similar between married couples later in their lives. They found that if the woman met the standard recommendation for exercise and her spouse did not, there was  a 70% chance that he would meet the recommendation for exercises six years later compared to men whose spouses did not exercise much, as long as the woman remained physically active.

For the husband who met the recommendations during the first questionnaire, if the wife did not meet the standard recommendations, there was a 40% chance she would meet the standard recommendation in a few years compared to women whose husbands did not meet the standard recommendation.

What this research suggests is that as long as one spouse remains physically active, the other spouse may become physically active in the future.  This data also suggests that if neither spouse is physically active, the chance of both spouses being physical active is significantly reduced.

I’ve had the privilege of working with a few married couples who have been successful at starting and maintaining a regular exercise program together.  I met most of them when they both enrolled in a “Learn How to Exercise Correctly” Class I facilitate at the UNC Wellness Centers at NW Cary.  Here is one of several successful stories I will share.

The wife in this situation was very concerned about her husband’s health and lack of exercise so they both enrolled in a six-week “Learn How to Exercise Correctly” class for a total of two hours per week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  She had prior experience with exercise and being physically active but her husband did not.  She could have easily skipped the class but instead they participated together.  Upon completing the course they both were able to design their own exercise program and now felt empowered to continue their exercise routine.  The husband had concerns about his pre-diabetes status (elevated blood sugar levels) prior to taking the class and at present his numbers are in normal range.  He attributed this to “modifying his diet and exercising regularly” his wife told me.

I do understand that there are instances where your spouse will not participate in any form of physical activity or a structured exercise program.  In such cases do not become discouraged.  Continue to remain physically active with the hopes of influencing his/her behavior based on the reported study and periodically ask him/her to join you.

If you believe your spouse may be open to becoming physically active and you want to influence your inactive spouse to exercise more, consider exercising together.  What I mean by this is you (the active spouse) should be supportive of your inactive spouse by participating in exercises that you both can accomplish successfully together.  During this time, the exercises you both performed together may not seem as challenging to you.  However, consider that your purpose for joining your inactive spouse is to help him or her feel comfortable with exercise and increase participation when she/he is ready.   Prior to getting started, speak with your health care provider to get clearance to exercise.  When you are both ready to begin, you can start by taking brisk walks together up to 30 minutes at least five times a week.  Increase the time up to 60 minutes, as you feel comfortable, to improve your cardiovascular health.  I have heard from a few couples that their tracking device (instrument that counts the number of steps taken daily) has influenced how much and how often they walk weekly.  Beyond walking, it will be necessary to work on strengthening your muscles to include improving your flexibility and balance.  If you are not certain of how to progress with exercise beyond walking, consider taking a formal “Learn How to Exercise Correctly” class at the UNC Wellness Centers at NW Cary or semi-private (2 people) training sessions at the UNC Wellness Centers at Meadowmont or NW Cary.  Either one of these pursuits will enhance your exercise experience and may also help keep you accountable to each other for remaining physically active and improving your overall health throughout the years.

Written by: Patrick Service, Personal Trainer