Wish Your Partner Was More Fit? The Science-Backed Way To Trick Them Into Exercise


Getting your unfit lover to exercise can be a delicate matter. This new science makes it so much easier. (Photo: A. Ariani/Splash News/CHPFameFlynet Pictures)

According to word on the street, Rihanna wants her maybe-he-is-maybe-he-isn’t boyfriend, Leonardo DiCaprio, to shed a few pounds. And if the new research presented at an American Heart Association conference on March 5th is to be believed, then the singer — and anyone who would like to gently nudge their partner in the direction of better fitness — might be ignoring the best weapon: hitting the gym more often herself. 

A new study from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health shows that when one partner improves their fitness levels, the other is significantly more likely to do the same.

Researchers examined data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, which followed 15,792 middle-aged adults from communities in Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota and Mississippi beginning in 1989. Specifically, the Johns Hopkins team honed in on two medical visits six years apart, where previous researchers asked 3,261 couples about their physical activity.

Only 33 percent of women and 45 percent of men met the American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity, which is 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. However, if a woman met the standards, her husband was 50 percent more likely to meet the standards than a woman who did not and vice versa.

This got the researchers thinking, and they decided to look at the spouses of those who did not originally meet the key fitness criteria. They found that if the wife met the American Heart Association recommendations at both visits, or upped her fitness regimen from the first to second visit, husbands were 40 percent more likely to start meeting the fitness criteria too. Similar results were found among the women in the study.

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According to study co-researcher Laura Cobb, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health doctoral student, there are a number of reasons there might be an association between spouses’ fitness regimens. “One possibility is that people often marry someone similar to them to start with,”she tells Yahoo Health. “Further, spouses share the same environment, and therefore are subject to the same influences. The final theory is that spouses are able to influence each other.”

The final theory might be the most interesting, and perhaps probable, as Cobb says previous studies have found that spouses can sway their partners’ behavior. They weren’t able to explore this in the current study, but doing so may help healthcare professionals combat issues like obesity and chronic disease in the future.

“We know that American adults don’t get nearly enough physical activity,”Cobb says. “Intervention strategies to improve physical activity may benefit from targeting both members of a couple.” 

So next time you’re about to nag your spouse for his couch-potato ways, try staying mum; just lace up your running shoes. In time, he may just follow suit.

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