New Study Finds Couples Share Heart Disease Risks
Your partner's health has a big effect on your own. So how do you both stay healthy?
The Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, has recently released a study focusing on the cardiovascular health of couples who live together. In it, they studied 5,364 couples made up of employees and their domestic partners who were undergoing an annual employer-sponsored health assessment. The objective was to see if there was a link in the health of the two people in the relationship and, if so, what it was. The study found that not only are the heart disease risk factors of couples often similar, they tend to share behaviors that put them at further risk as well.
Heart disease risk has a lot to do with lifestyle
While some risk factors for heart disease are out of our control, like genetics, many of them are behavioral. A person's diet, amount of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and whether or not they smoke all play a big part in determining their risk for heart disease. Unsurprisingly, people in long-term, live-in relationships tend to share a lot of the same lifestyle choices.
A report by Gregory G. Homish, Ph.D., assistant professor of health behavior, and colleagues in University at Buffalo's School of Public Health and Health Professions and UB's Research Institute on Addictions found that couples who had similar consumption rates of alcohol and smoking tended to stay together, while those with a gap between usage did not. In other words, couples' behavior tended to mirror one another's or they leaned toward separation. For the most part, each member of the relationship was reinforcing the other's behavior, whether that was smoking, drinking, or quitting.
Unsurprisingly, couples also have very similar diets. They grocery shop together, eat at the same restaurants, and generally prioritize the same kinds of food. It is rare for one person in a relationship to be counting calories while the other one is perfectly happy eating fast food all the time.
A person's activity level also has an influence on their partner's behavior. A recent story by The Atlantic highlighted how people are more likely to stick to a fitness routine if their partner does. Not only that, but people are more likely to achieve their fitness goals if they have someone to work alongside.
How this knowledge is being used
Companies are already thinking of ways they can use this to help make their employees healthier. Up until recently, wellness programs like the one in the study were focused only on the employee of the company. While that was the obvious choice at the time, it is becoming clearer that better results might be achieved by including the spouse in that wellness program.
If companies have a program that both employees and their spouses can participate in together, it increases the likelihood that they'll stick with it and see results. From a practical standpoint, it can be stressful when one person in a relationship makes a sudden lifestyle change for both parties. Encouraging that the shift be done together also eases the stress levels of the people in the relationship.
Heart disease risk: it's not just about you
It's often easier to do something nice for someone we care about then to do something for ourselves. If you are in a relationship, keep in mind that any unhealthy behaviors you have — eating poorly, not exercising, smoking, etc. — all have an effect on your spouse. They're more likely to mimic your lifestyle and the reverse is true as well.
If you want to ensure that you and your partner are as healthy as possible, it is a journey best taken together. There are lots of great resources out there for couples who want to start enjoying a healthier lifestyle. Most gyms offer discounts for family memberships and, of course, better food in the refrigerator means everyone is eating better.
Want to check your risk for heart disease?
If you're concerned about you and your partner's risk for heart disease right now, you can schedule a cardiovascular screening with Life Line Screening. These screenings are quick, painless, and noninvasive.
In it, a trained tech uses an ultrasound machine to scan your arteries and check for plaque buildup that can cause life-threatening issues like stroke. You and your partner can even make back-to-back appointments and get checked together at the same time.