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Improve your spouse's health habits by improving yours
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October 05, 2007

People can not only benefit themselves by adopting a healthy lifestyle but their spouses as well, as a new study has shown that men and women tend to follow the same health-related habits as their life partners.

"We found that when one spouse improves his or her health behaviour, the other spouse was likely to do so as well," said study co-author Jody Sindelar, health economist and public health professor in the Yale School of Public Health.

"This was consistent across all the behaviours analysed and was similar among both males and females," she said.

The researchers analysed longitudinal data on 6,072 individuals and their spouses from the Health and Retirement Study, and found that the changes in spouses' health habits were most apparent in such behaviour as smoking and drinking, which is often spurred by outside cues.

The study subjects also tended to reflect the health habits of their spouses in patient-directed preventive behaviour, such as getting a flu shot.

According to the researchers, smokers were about five times more likely to quit smoking if their spouses quit, when controlling for other relevant factors. Similarly, spouses were five times more likely to quit drinking alcohol if their partner did not drink, they say.

The researchers, however, have revealed that the changes were less apparent in clinician-directed preventive behaviour, such as obtaining cholesterol screening.

Sindelar and co-author Dr. Tracy Falba, visiting assistant professor at Duke University's Center for Health Policy, Law and Management, strongly feels that that attempts to change the behaviour of a person may be enhanced by the behaviour of family members, especially spouses.

They say that intervention programmes should include tips about how to get the other spouse involved in exercise or help reduce tobacco cues.

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