Healthier Together
Partnering up for a healthier lifestyle
By Ruth Diamond

For Jen Caudle, DO, helping her patients come up with strategies to stick to daunting health goals – from moderating alcohol consumption to managing diabetes or lowering cholesterol – is all in a day’s work. Time and again she finds the advice that works best is powerful in its simplicity: Don’t go about it alone. Bringing a partner into the equation can be a game changer.

Jen Caudle, DO

“I see it almost every day as a family physician,” says Caudle of Rowan Medicine. “When a patient is trying to change health behaviors, they often find the most success when they make it a team effort. I often recommend the idea of having an accountability partner. There’s a synergy. Instead of one person eating a salad while the other is sitting there with junk food, they’re both making healthy decisions.”

While accountability can come from various sources – a spouse, a friend or even fitness apps – it is often one’s life partner who can play the most transformative role as an influencer in maintaining health goals, says Lou Bezich, Senior VP & Chief Administrative Officer of Cooper University Health Care.

“There’s growing recognition that our relationships are incredibly powerful in motivating healthy behavior,” says Bezich. “What the science says is that you have a much better chance of starting and maintaining healthy behaviors if your spouse is on board. You are literally better together.”

Bezich points to studies showing that both men and women are more inclined to quit smoking, get active and lose weight when their partners are active participants in these healthful shifts. 

“To me, this brings home the underlying challenge we as a country face,” says Bezich, a men’s health advocate who wrote “Crack the Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50.” 

“We certainly have the best healthcare in the world in terms of the expertise of our clinicians, the technology we have, and the medical infrastructure we have in this country. But when you reflect back on the fact that the number-one influence on our health is our own behaviors, it’s our behaviors we need to focus on.”

The Motivational Factor

As Bezich tells it, the catalyst for change is deeply rooted in the dynamics of a committed relationship – the sticking together through thick and thin. Life satisfaction is known to be associated with behaviors that can affect health, including diet and exercise. A caring, supportive partner can be an everyday reminder of the very reasons why it’s worth undertaking significant and hard lifestyle changes. 

Lou Bezich

Bezich believes this holds especially true for men over 50 who are married to women, noting that female spouses tend to be more health conscious in pairings. They’re more likely to schedule doctor’s appointments, get prescriptions filled and ensure their spouses get screenings. They typically keep their partners conscious of changing body conditions and advocate for medical treatment when questions arise. 

In that way, the married partner provides built-in accountability, he says, noting the reciprocal influence and encouragement spouses can exert on one another.

However, marriage isn’t a golden ticket to health benefits, he cautions. A stressful marriage could be less beneficial than being single but surrounded by a supportive circle. 

“The beauty of the partnership is that one partner can pick the other up when they stumble. The partnership reinforces the reason it’s worth the effort,” Bezich adds.

Friends & Beyond

It’s not just spouses who can provide the spark and encouragement to change health habits, Caudle says. She notes many of her patients have found success enlisting their best friends, co-workers, therapists and even fitness apps to play the role as accountability partners. 

Bezich agrees, noting a body of research behind the idea, including Mayo Clinic studies proving the power of friendship to encourage people to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as excessive drinking or lack of exercise.

“The power is in having someone or something with you on this journey,” says Caudle, “which can make it a lot less lonely, and sometimes a lot more successful.”

December 2023
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