Partners in Health

People are much more likely to achieve their fitness goals with their spouse than alone.

Every January, optimistic exercisers flock to the gym to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. Some might try Zumba for the first time, or take up boxing to shave off winter weight. But a new study has shown that one exercise trend (and we mean trend with a capital New York Times “T”) might actually be worth the hype. Obnoxious couple’s classes and duo-based workouts be damned, new research shows that twosomes who work out together are more likely to achieve their fitness goals than those who try to get healthy alone.

Sarah Jackson, a psychologist from the University College London, said that as people push to quit smoking and become more active, “doing it with your partner increases your chances of success.” Jackson is the lead author of a new study that looks at how partners in relationships influence each other’s healthy behaviors. Previous studies have shown that couples can share bad habits, such as abusing alcohol or gorging on a greasy order of fries, but this is one of the first studies to find the beneficial effects spouses have their partner’s fitness.

The study looked at more than 3,700 cohabiting and married couples, all over the age of 50. The participants had been given questionnaires every four years since 2002 as a part of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, which looks at health and quality of life among older people in the U.K. The team found that men and women shed more weight, get more active, and are more successful at quitting smoking when their partners are pursuing the same fitness goals. The team published their results published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Nearly 70 percent of couples who worked out together were still going to the gym at least once a week two years later. But of those who exercised alone, only a quarter continued to be active. Men and women were more than twice as likely to lose weight teaming up with their significant other than by themselves. The study also found that smokers had a 50 percent chance of quitting if they kicked the habit with their spouse, but only an 8 percent chance of success alone. Though the participants were all over 50, the researchers believe that their findings would apply to couples of all ages.

“While the paper shows a relationship between couple behaviors, it can’t really isolate why,” Jennifer Roberts, a researcher from the University of Sheffield in the U.K. who was not involved in the study, said to Reuters. The researchers said that their study did not address the reasons for success, but they did have some suggestions as to why. “I would speculate that social support and sharing the problem would be good [reasons],”  Jane Wardle, a clinical psychologist and an author on the study added. “Maybe there might also be an element of competition.” And though the study didn't address this, just having a partner or friend to keep you accountable could help in keeping with fitness goals, according to Julie Sharp from Cancer Research U.K. “Getting some support can help people take up good habits,” she said in a statement. “For example if you want to lose weight and have a friend or colleague who’s trying to do the same thing you could encourage each other.”

So the next time you come across a couple sweating in tandem, try not to wince. It’s scientifically sound. And it’s better than prancercise.