By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
A study published in August by Lotte Verweij, a registered nurse and Ph.D. student at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, indicates that couples lose more pounds than people going it alone.
Although the study of 824 patients focuses on heart attack survivors who would benefit from weight loss, smoking cessation and physical activity the study’s most striking finding is that undertaking weight loss with a partner rather than solo works better.
“Lifestyle improvement after a heart attack is a crucial part of preventing repeat events,” said Verweij as quoted by www.sciencedaily.com. “Our study shows that when spouses join the effort to change habits, patients have a better chance of becoming healthier — particularly when it comes to losing weight.”
Those with a partner were more than twice as likely to participate in a healthful lifestyle change than those without a partner. The finding makes sense to Az Tahir, M.D., who practices holistic medicine in Rochester.
“Anything done by family together brings results and love,” Tahir said.
He said that in addition to fitness activities, eating healthful meals and engaging in stress reduction together are important as well.
“I also suggest family pray, meditate, [practice] yoga and play together,” he added.
So, what is so helpful about getting healthy together?
Physician Kerry Graff, board certified in family and lifestyle medicine at Rochester Regional Health’s Family and Lifestyle Medicine-Canandaigua, said that “it’s really hard to resist” when someone trying to be healthy sees someone else enjoying a treat.
“Giving into cravings is your DNA,” she said. “We’re designed to get our hands on the most sugary, fatty things so we can get through a famine.
“Being around someone who’s supportive is certainly more helpful.”
She explained that humans, like animals, have three basic drives: pleasure, avoiding pain and doing these with as little effort as possible.
“If you’re doing this with a spouse and they’re not bringing unhealthful things into your house, you’d have to go out to get it,” Graff said. “Usually number three kicks in and you won’t go get it.”
The hassle of cooking two meals — a healthful one and a not-so-healthful one — can become a drag. But cooking a healthful meal to share with someone who wants unhealthful food can hurt the relationship.
In addition to food, the principle applies to fitness. Undertaking something painful (beginning to exercise again) is easier when someone else is with you.
“You don’t want to let down the other person,” Graff said. “If it’s just you doing it, you might forget it.”
She said that couples trying to lose weight may consider a goal, such as if they both complete physical activity and eat right each day that they put money away for a trip or other reward.
“It shouldn’t be a weight loss challenge since guys have more muscle mass and they tend to lose weight easier,” Graff said. “It should be things both can do.”
If the other person is not ready to get healthy with you, you can do it on your own with a little planning.
Mathew Devine, osteopathic doctor with Highland Family Medicine, said that friends and family can help instead. Make goals with your buddy such as to work out so many days a week, or to eat a certain number of servings of produce daily.
Joining a group or class of like-minded people you do not know can help. That helps build in accountability and support.
“Some may have more immediate success but that’s not a reason to not participate,” Devine said.
It may need to be a virtual group; however, the effect is similar. Phone apps may also assist in weight loss, since they can be used to track movement, lead workouts, record calories and in a sense become more accountable.
“Apps are fantastic and continue to get better and better,” Devine said. “Many can simulate groups getting together. During the pandemic, it’s been a time we’ve had to adjust. In some cases, they’re better than the in-person opportunities. It’s unfortunate we’ve had to distance ourselves, but we’ve advanced technology to helps us get together.”