"When it comes to physical fitness, the best peer pressure to get moving could be coming from the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table," says study co-author Laura Cobb.
Led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, the study reveals that if one spouse increases their physical activity, the other spouse is much more likely follow in their footsteps.
The team recently presented its findings at the American Heart Association's EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore, MD.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, set by the US Department of Health and Human Services, recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week.
A 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, found that less than half of adults in the US meet these physical activity recommendations.
But the researchers say their findings suggest a potentially effective way of increasing exercise levels for some adults: counseling married couples on health together, rather than separately.
"When it comes to physical fitness, the best peer pressure to get moving could be coming from the person who sits across from you at the breakfast table," says study co-author Laura Cobb, a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins.
"There's an epidemic of people in this country who don't get enough exercise," she continues, "and we should harness the power of the couple to ensure people are getting a healthy amount of physical activity."
Spouse 40-70% more likely to meet exercise recommendations if other spouse does
To reach their findings, Cobb and colleagues analyzed the medical records of 3,261 spouse pairs who were a part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC), which began in 1987.
From 1987-89, the spouse pairs had two medical visits that were conducted approximately 6 years apart. At each visit, the physical activity levels of each spouse were recorded, and the team compared these with the recommendations set in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
At the first visit, the team found that 33% of wives and 40% of husbands met physical activity recommendations.
On the second visit, however, a husband was 70% more likely to meet physical activity guidelines if his wife met the guidelines on the first visit, compared with husbands whose wives were less active.
In addition, a wife was 40% more likely to meet physical activity recommendations on the second visit if her husband met recommendations on the first visit.Commenting on the team's findings, Cobb says:
"We all know how important exercise is to staying healthy. This study tells us that one spouse could have a really positive impact on the other when it comes to staying fit and healthy for the long haul."
This research builds on the findings of a previous study reported by Medical News Today in January, which found individuals were more likely to make healthy lifestyle changes - such as quitting smoking, increasing exercise or losing weight - if their partner did.