July 17, 2007

Spousal Support

A recent study highlighted the positive impact one spouse can have on the other by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Before Crabby starts sharing her many disorganized thoughts on this topic (and she hopes you have some too, only perhaps not as disorganized) she'll go ahead and present a few of study's conclusions. It was conducted by researchers Tracy Falba and Jody Sindelar, and as usual, Crabby hopes someday they Google themselves and wind up smack in the middle of the pages of Cranky Fitness--marveling at the mess Crabby has made of their study.


After asking more than 6,000 married adults about exercise, smoking, alcohol use, flu shots, and cholesterol screening--twice, both in 1996 and 2000, here's what our researchers found:

"Spouses were five to six times more likely to quit smoking, quit drinking, and to start getting flu shots if their spouse started doing so during the study."

They were also about 50% more likely to start exercising, and about 80% more likely to get a cholesterol test.

And it didn't matter which spouse changed first: husbands and wives influenced each other equally.

The study didn't specify whether nagging played any part in this, and Crabby refuses to speculate. (She's also not clear that research supports the idea that "not drinking" is always healthier than drinking, either, but whatever).

However, interesting as this was, it's mostly a jumping off point for Crabby's real interest: What impact does being coupled have on the person who is already health-conscious (or health-obsessed)? Sure, having a healthy mate may lead one to adopt better habits, but does having a slackier mate do the opposite? Does it drag you down? Or what happens if you're about equally conscientious?

Crabby guesses that among the coupled Cranky Fitness readers out there, many of you may be the more health-conscious one in your relationship. So while it's great that you may be influencing your mate in the right direction, what's the impact on you?

Not being prepared to actually go consult The Google and hunt down relevant research, Crabby would much rather find out what you all think about how being coupled or not affects your attempts to be healthy. Because who cares what the studies say when we have our very own entertaining database right here?

Of course there is this whole pesky "spouse" issue, which Crabby interprets to mean Partner or Significant Other or Mate. Crabby feels her Most Significant Other should count, even though under the laws of every United State except Massachusetts, she doesn't. But that's a rant for another time.

Anyway, Crabby is very lucky in that even though MSO does not share quite her obsessive interest in health matters, and dislikes most vegetables, she has always been very supportive of Crabby's efforts to eat healthy and get daily exercise.

In fact, check this out: Crabby's knees are trashed from years of running; she is much better at going uphill than down. Her absolute favorite aerobic walk is up to the top of a huge hill (in Crabby's mind, it is a Mountain) but it's an hour and a half round trip, and her knees object heartily to the walk back down. Nevertheless, every Sunday, Crabby sets off with her iPod and her heartrate monitor and charges up the hill.

And MSO arrives, 45 minutes later, at the top of the hill to drive her back down again. She brings a bottle of cold water, too.

Is that not awesome?

So what do you folks think about being singled or coupled and the effects that might have on your efforts to be healthy? Or kids, heck, we can throw kids in the mix too!


  1. My husband has had the most profound effect on my health and fitness. I'd always wanted to do mountain hikes and whatnot, but never did because laziness always won out. Now I do hiking and biking plus eat way more veggies because he a)loves them and b)grows them.
    He also influenced my gradual turning away from junk food. I don't believe I'll abandon it completely as junk food and I go back a long, long way, but I have cut down on it.
    MSO sounds wonderful and supportive and yes, awesome for bringing you cold water and a ride.
    And for now, until such time as we read your rant and can let loose on the subject, Yay Massachusetts!

  2. Hubby goes to the gym regularly. I don't. I don't like chips and most stuff like that (or I'll like them, but won't eat much of it), he does. I go to the dr (most of the time) when I need to, he rarely does. So, it's a toss up here.

    Good example: A few years ago as we were spending the weekend up north with friends and our kids, they all decided to go for a hike up Mont Tremblant and then take the gondola down. I went and had a massage. I strolled over to the bottom of the mountain to meet them. We all took a nap after - them from exhaustion and me because, well, who am I to turn down a nice relaxing nap??

  3. Hm, I don't know to which extent this could happen in the case of a person who is particularly conscious about health, but I know that in the case of people who have, say, a "normal" approach to these things, being dragged down may be quite easy. Example that we've probably all known at some point, in ourselves or in others: getting in a relationship, then slowly gaining weight because, without realizing it, we females unconsciously align our portions on that of the male partner. (Can you tell that I've fallen in that as well? Hehe.) But, again, I don't know if this would so easily influence a person who is particularly strong in his/her healthy convictions.

  4. Crabby, Most Significant Other definitely counts because she counts to you and that is the most important thing.

    I was married for a long time, but that was years ago and I do not recall that we had any real effect on each others health except for offering the odd cup of tea when one or the other had a cold or flu.

    Perhaps it is just spending time with someone and caring about that person's health leads to supporting healthy habits.

    To couples everywhere: remember this, if one of you gets sick, the other will be assigned the role of caretaker so you may as well support health.

    As to kids, mine are adults and are keenly aware of every nuance of health debilitation that their father or I reach. They fuss and nag, but I guess it's a good thing because most of the caretaking will inevitably fall to them.

    Congrats on Sk*rts. (did I get that right?) I saw the kudos on Dawn's blog. I ran right over and checked it out. Tomorrow I will use some of my blog time to join.


  5. Well my hubby would be the slacker that's dragging me down. At least until this time around, we had a talk about it. He is not the supportive guy who walks with me or wants to eat a stirfry instead of pizza. He loves sitting on the couch watching movies while I sweat next to him doing squats. Lately he's been better about offering to pick up donuts and stuff but we still have cookies and chips and candy stashed all around the house because it is a staple for him. So I'm gonna say yes, a slacker significant other does drag you off track.

  6. My husband has really good genes. Seriously, he's one of those "Natural Born Runners, Couldn't Get Fat If He Tried" people. Me? I got less-than-stellar genes in some ways.
    Luckily, he's learned over the years that it's a lot harder for me to get in shape (and stay in shape) than it is for him. He also appreciates the fact that I just can't eat like he can. He's very supportive of the efforts I make.

  7. My husband and I got to know each other years ago through mountain biking. And now, having a biking or running partner so close can help to keep us going. But then, sometimes not. I don't nag (about this anyway) and the husband hasn't been out on a run since March now. So who knows? However, when I am in "serious training mode" he drives along to cheer me on and mark out mileage and doesn't even yell back when I curse at him for turning around and causing the mileage count to be off. What a man!

  8. When Dan and I first got together, we influenced each other in bad ways. Then he started getting back in shape and inspired me to tone up again, myself.

    For several years, exercise was a "we" deal and we ran races together, did bike rides together, etc. It was a blast!

    But he started slacking and I stuck with the exercise. I don't regret my own commitment for a millisecond, but I miss the heck out of our evening runs and long Sunday rides together. I encourage him to get back into it, but so far I haven't succeeded.

    I try not to nag, since we both need a lot of space to be who we are. But when he finishes getting his degree, I hope he'll look around and decide he wants to get back on track. I'll be there for him, but I won't join him in slackerdom.

  9. I think that I have had the most influence on getting my hubby healthy. He really didn't like my healthy ways at first. We even had a few fights about my habits. I think even his family thinks I still am a tad extreme (and maybe I am).

    Since we have got together, he eats better, exercises at least three times a week and tries to limit his junk food to the weekends. I am pretty happy with that. One day I'll hope to get him to eat more veggies.

    I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit that he doesn't have influence on me too. When we eat out, he wants dessert, so I get dessert too. He also entices me with trips to Dairy Queen.

    He balances me and I balance him. With out him I would probably be that annoying person that analyzes everything that I eat with fine tooth come, thinking that unless it was sugar free, organic, and free of chemicals, I can't eat it (major crunch FREAK) and he would be the polar opposite.

  10. My fiance leads a relatively healthy lifestyle. She doesn't exercise as often as I do and she's not a vegetarian, but she doesn't overeat and she is physically active.

    I had a few issues at first matching my lifestyle to hers, but they were mostly resolved through communication. For example, she was annoyed when I would wake up every day at 6am to work out, so I changed my schedule a bit. We both adjusted our eating habits to mesh a bit more, but not to the point where I feel like I'm sacrificing my health.

    Overall, I find her incredibly supportive, and any minor issues are easily communicated away.


  11. My signifigant other is a personal trainer. She doesn't allow any unhealhty food in the house. So I guess we can call that supportive. I really do love her though, she's very encouraging without being a "know-it-all".

  12. Aaron and I have ping-ponged back and forth. While I was recovering from the last birth, he started training for a marathon. It was very motivating for me to get off my butt as soon as I could. Right now, he's just getting over a slump and I'm the one with the motivation and drive. It's lots of fun when we're both on an "up" together, and easier too.

    The hardest thing as far as health and weight loss go in our relationship is the fact that he LOVES to bake (no matter what state of marathon training he's in). Cookies, muffins, truffles, donuts, whatever. And he has no problem eating just one. Overall though, very supportive! If he weren't, losing weight would be a LOT harder.

  13. Hi everybody--wow, what a great bunch of responses already! Who needs research when I have you all?

    Leah, that sounds wonderful. And I love that it goes against the usual stereotypes of junk food/couch potato hubby and healthy wife. He sounds great!

    Marijke, that sound like a very nice balance. (And I've been on that Tremblant hike--it looks like it's not going to be any big deal and you keep thinking you're almost there but then it seems to go on forever! A massage seems like a very sensible alternative and it sound like you have a very healthy flexible family.)

    Hi Kery,
    I think you're totally right about women unconsciously adjusting to match men's portions--I think it's pretty common, even among healthy women. Hard to eat consistently less than a benchmark someone else sets without feeling a little cheated! (Oh, and thanks for the mention over at the Daily Apple!)

    Hi Terrie!
    Good reminders about the caretaking "we're in this together" aspect. And it's cool that your kids keep an eagle eye on your health--must mean they really care! Either that, or they just like to fuss and nag, but I'm guessing the former.

    hi Randi,
    Well good for you for doing your squats anyway and not plopping down on the couch right next to him. You may be a good influence on him without even knowing it--who knows, maybe one day he'll reach a turning point and leap off the couch to go for a run, or a walk. Well, at least he must have to get up to pee every now and then. Anyway, good luck & hope he gets inspired by you to start moving!

    Sorry, back in a bit...

  14. Hi Lisa,
    That's so cool that he's figured out how to be supportive. Maybe it's an overgeneralization, but I get the feeling that testosterone makes it easier for men to build muscle and burn fat, and consequently, often when men and women set out with the same effort and determination to get in shape, some men are able to get there more quickly and easily than women do. Good for him for understanding you may not be coming from the same place.

    Hi norabarnacle,
    That's great that both of you are into exercise, at least most of the time! Partner slumps are hard, but hopefully he'll notice that you're keeping up with it and that will be motivating for him. And the mileage marking thing is cool. Can you bribe him not to turn around?

    Hi Bunnygirl!
    Interesting, a mini-theme seems to be developing. Do women tend to stick with it a bit better or is this just a sampling anomoly? I think you're being really smart, both not to nag but also to not let it slow you down.

    Okay, returning shortly!

  15. I've been a avid reader for quite sometime, but hadn't had felt compelled enough to comment...until today.

    I dated a guy for about 2 years who was the epitome of unhealthy. Loved crappy food, his idea of a good Sunday was camped out on the couch, etc. Before I met him, I didn't eat great, but I didn't eat that bad, and I most certainly wasn't lazy. After two years of being with him, I had gained about 15 pounds and stopped any sort of activity, I'd became him.

    Now that he's gone, I'm back to my good ways, and I've lost about 20lbs, so I definitely think have a SO that is lazy/motivated can influence you.

  16. One, I think MSO makes your MSO sound like a nice bowl of miso soup. Therefore, I'm declaring that a new nickname must be found immediately. Especially since said MSO is nice enough to rescue you from possible exercise induced trouble. Of course, no one expects Crabs to take orders from lowly not crab-like bloggers...

    As to the question; significant others are the ultimate peer pressure. Sort of. My ex eats Burger King like it's going out of style but I don't. I wear sunscreen religiously and dumb ex (even though his dad had skin cancer twice) fought me about it every day. So, maybe if you actually like each other the peer pressure sticks better?

    I like my son (obviously) and because he's always on the go and in great shape he makes me want to do the same. I do find it rather hard to believe that wives don't influence male spouses more so than the other way around. Females in general seem to be more up on fitness (NOT ALWAYS) men, don't get huffy. That's just my experience. But the study didn't include me so whatever.

  17. I like this news, Crabby! I hope it's true! I've often joked that in relationships as in math, it's the 'lowest common denominator' that rules. It would be nice if couples could reach for the higher math together.

  18. Samantha,
    Yeah, balance is good! And the occasional Dairy Queen treat can be a great bonding experience. Sounds like you two have struck a great balance--and he's lucky you're a healthy one, because he'll appreciate in 30 years or so (a) being alive (b) not feeling like crap for being a junk-eating sloth.

    hi Gal!
    You make such great point about flexibility and communication. Because no two people are going to be identical about how they view anything, whether it's exercise or reality TV or how to parallel park. Sounds like you guys are off to a great start in working all that out together.

    Hi Noah,
    That's cool that she can be encouraging without being a Know-it-all. (I have Know-it-all tendencies myself.) However, I'd chafe a bit at a complete ban on junk food --I need my cupcakes every now and then! But then a personal trainer in the house would be quite handy. Sounds like you're both lucky.

    Hi Katieo!
    Aaron sounds awesome. (Although eating just one cookie, yikes, what self control!) It's great that you both help each other and don't get too derailed when the other one's in a slump.

    And welcome Kate!
    Thanks for reading, and so glad you decided to comment! I see you have a blog too and I'm eager to stop by and check it out.

    Wow, good for you for moving in such a positive direction once the Bad Influence was gone. I think it's really hard to be healthy when you're with someone who isn't even trying at all.

    Hi Jennifer,
    Agreed, MSO does sound boring like soup, or like a health plan or something. (Damn, my MSO won't pay for therapy!) A better nickname is definitely needed.

    I love that Cedar helps you get more exercise--so often you hear the opposite from parents.

    Hi Dr J,
    I love your higher math metaphor! And yes, its nice not to see the lowest common denominator prevailing as it so often does.

  19. This has nothing to do with spousal support, instead it has to do with how much reading your posts have made my day.

  20. Klinde, thank you!

    What a lovely thing to say. It is you who has made my day!

  21. We have been married for 3 years come August. I have been able to influence my hubby to go the Dr. and even to the dentist once. I quit smoking once for a month. My quitting had no affect on him. I started again with a girlfriend crying on my porch about her kids. I can't blame him for that. We love to eat around each other. I love to cook yummy, fatty, greasy, tasty meals, curl up next to him on the couch, and watch a movie. Before I started this diet there were seconds or thirds involved. Now, I cook what I think he will eat, measure my portions, and clean the kitchen thoroughly before nestling in for the night. He has stated that he should stop drinking so much Coke (THE ONLY DRINK IN THE WORLD)and that if I am successful, it MAY inspire him to change. Overall, I'd say we allow ourselves to be fueled by the others bad habits. But, we are supportive of each others desired changes knowing that ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to truly make and stick with change.

  22. Christina,
    It sounds like you're a really good influence on him, and it's great to hear you're developing all these good habits around portion control (something I always struggle with). Cleaning the kitchen is a great idea to avoid going back and getting more. Congrats on your nearly 3 years, and it sounds like you guys really try to support each other. (And it took me years to give up Coke and I still miss it. Diet drinks just don't taste the same.) Thanks so much for commenting!

  23. My mso works in an environment where he burns a lot of calories so he can eat whatever he wants .... and he really does. Last night be brought home chocolate-covered donuts and pizza. I kinda wanted to kill him. But I ate a donut instead :P

  24. My significant other had a big impact on my health. I work out daily, rarely ate junk. My significant other never exercises and eats crap--doesn't like fruits and vegetables. I still workout daily, but the crap has entered my diet and not for the better. Unfortunately he has absolutely no interest in eating right (why should he? If he eats veggies and fruit he starts to lose weight) and ENJOYS feeding me my favorite junk.

    He does walk with me and loves hiking, one of my favorite things. But outside of that, he drags me down healthwise. I'll never stop working out, but my eating habits have gone to crap since I've been with him.

  25. Oh gawd...none in my relationships. My ex and I were diametrically opposed but at least he used to eat veggies and could have something simlar in a meal.

    The guy I have now smokes a pack a day, only eats meat, potatoes, and sour dough bread. If any veggies it's canned spinach or beans ONLY! No raw fruit. I haven't seen him drink water since we met three years ago...only coffee and Walmart "water drinks." Total toxicity. He told me some of his best meals were at truck stops. I almost left when he said that.

    While disappointing to say the least, we just eat different meals
    and if I want gourmet foods, I call on others in my life- I was clear to him that I refuse to be culinarily monogamous so get used to it or learn to eat sushi.

    Oh well.

  26. Don't comment back busy blogger...but I had to say I hadn't even considered MSO like a health care plan. Too funny. Now for the rest of my days I'm going to think HMO when I see that.

  27. That's so nice. It gives me hope for the sanctity of marriage and faith that we, as a society, have some redeeming value.

    If I were a positive individual that would be my response. Since I'm totally not, let me give you my real response:

    Is this the same for negative habbits, like couch potatoness, or obsessive Tetris playing? Wouldn't the stronger personality come out on top in the quest for behavior domination? Or do people innately want to do things that are better for them, as opposed to the opposite.

    -- P

  28. Hi Martha,
    Thanks for stopping by!

    Well, I guess it's better than a chocolate covered pizza?

    Seriously, I do think guys, especially young guys, get to play the game with a whole different set of rules when it comes to calories/diet/exercise. (In a way I'm kind of lucky not to have to deal with that! )

    hi Jen!
    That's a tough one, because it sound like he feels like he's being nice to you when he tempts you with crap. It's sort of adorable, but geez, at some point you must wish he'd get it through his head that he's not doing you a favor! Good thing you have a lot of willpower. Hope he starts following your example at some point.

    hi Pamm!
    So I'm always how impressed by how healthy you eat, and I had no idea you were doing it on your own. "Slacker guy" seems to be a not uncommon theme! Good for you that you don't let your relationship keep you from your own and health goals and from tasty gourmet foods.

    Hi Jennifer, & thanks!

    Good point. I'm kind of with you in thinking there's a dominance component, as well as stubbornness component, to this whole equation. I think if you're ambivalent about health matters, easy-going, and have a take charge partner who's lazy and impulsive about food, you're probably sunk. On the other hand, as many of the above commenters demonstrate, if you're serious about your own health you can take a lazy slacker in stride and not let him (let's just say) deter you from your goals. But it's much easier if you end up with someone whose either healthy or willing to be flexible about it.

    Thanks everyone! Okay, it's bedtime now. Comments after this point, while eagerly read, may not be responded to individually. But please feel free to leave them as other readers always appreciate them!

  29. I think I've been a bad influence on my MSO. Before he met me [some twenty years ago] he played several sports competitively, windsurfed regularly and joined in the odd game of touch football. Now, he plays tennis once a week with a buddy and they both bring a couple of beers for a chat and rest afterward.

    When it comes to kids, mine have been a good influence. They all play sport and I'm regularly stuck with taking them to training. To offset boredom and the hardwork of standing around, I'll go for a walk around the sporting field. Instant fitness, yes?

    On a final note, my MSO and I influence each other equally when it comes to things like, oh, drinking wine. He opens a bottle and I always appear with an empty glass and vice versa!

    Love your blog!
    Cheers - TrishA

  30. Hi TrishA,

    So hmm, so your MSO is no longer windsurfing or playing football like he did 20 years ago when he was a young'un? Unless you're tying him to the bed, I don't know if you should be blaming yourself as a bad influence... normal aging sounds about right to me!

    Good for you for walking during sports practice. And I firmly believe wine is a Health Food, so perhaps he's a good influence on you too. Thanks so much for visiting!

  31. First off, your MSO sounds wonderful! You are very lucky.

    My boyfriend started being healthy, and still eats much better than I do (unless it's pizza or Berger cookies).

    I slacked off but was supportive ("you know each of those beers has about 120 calories and you're on your fifth"), but this summer, I started going to the gym and he's like "wah" and he'll probably get back into running and biking again, especially when it starts cooling off. He started a new job recently with a longer commute and it's thrown him off.

    I should also toss in that we don't live together as I'm in grad school and it's a little more than an hour away from where he lives.

  32. Hi Sarah!
    Good for you for going to the gym, and it sounds like watching you is going to help your boyfriend motivate on the exercise--always easier said than done with a long commute. And if he's a healthy eater, that's great! Sounds like you guys could both be a great influence on each other. (And hell, pizza can be a Health Food too, especially if you can find whole wheat crust, go easy on the cheese, and throw a couple veggies on top).

  33. Definitely think so. My husband's dedication to using our crosstrainer guilted me into working harder, and now as we get healthier we encourage each other. I try not to talk about running too much so I don't drive him mad and he doesn't give me a play bby play on his stepping on the scale and just encourage each other. The result? We're both healthier and happier than when we met and haven't ever been healthier...a good thing!
    And as the one who cooks (hubs would burn water) when I make healthier food we both feel better. I've got him eating fruit and all sorts of things we both used to dislike. I honestly think that when you cut back on crap, salt and fat you can taste other things...and they taste good. Who knew? :)

  34. Can I just say it made me smile that you revealed the gender of your "MSO"... Who cares what the government or Pope or whoever else thinks marriage is...

    Now I can't really contribute beyond that because I'm lacking in the MSO department but if I had one, I'd at least give her a cute nickname. :)

  35. Hi Geosomin,
    What great healthy changes! Sounds like you two are a good influence on each other. Cutting down on junk makes everything taste better--even junk itself, when you have it only occasionally.

  36. Thanks Meg!
    And yeah, nickname is definitely on the to-do list!

  37. It is SO much easier to be on the Fat Smash Diet with my husband, than by myself.

    I'm really blessed to have such a supportive family. Even my 12 yr old is working out with me at the gym.

    My parents...well....they helped install my "bad body image" button. It's tough being at their house. But even my mom told me to keep up the good work last week.

  38. Hi Angel,
    That's so great that your family is supportive, and that even mom is coming around. And that's great of you to take your 12 yr old to the gym with you--so many kids don't get enough exercise anymore. Sounds like you're all a good influence on each other!


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