The lifestyle a person shares with their partner has a greater influence on their health than their childhood upbringing or genetics — that’s the message of a new study.
“The couple that ______ together stays together.” How would you finish that common saying? Your answer is important because, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS Genetics, the habits you create with your partner can make or break your health.
Researchers looked at more than 20,000 couples, asking them about their overall health and diet and exercise habits. They found that those who established healthy habits with their spouse had a lower weight and better health than those whose habits differed from their significant other’s, showing that our love life may have more impact on our health than we’d like to believe.
“Although genetics accounts for a significant proportion of the variation between people, our study has shown that the environment you share with your partner in adulthood also influences whether you become obese, and this is more important than your upbringing,” said Chris Haley, lead author and professor at the University of Edinburgh. “The findings also show that even people who come from families with a history of obesity can reduce their risk by changing their lifestyle habits.”
But what were these habits of healthy couples, exactly? The study didn’t say. So I decided to get some inspiration of my own from fit pairs. They shared their couple traditions that not only help them stay healthy but — bonus! — also strengthen their relationship. Here’s what they told me:
1. Have a shared goal. Training for a marathon together has given Michelle and Kareem Malek better fitness and more time together to chat. After all, you have to pass those hours on the road doing something!
2. Try new things together. Shannon Hagen swears that CrossFit has made her 17-year marriage as strong as her new muscles. She and her husband enjoy doing the challenging WODs (workout of the day) together and then trying out new paleo recipes.
3. Walk. As long as there have been couples, there have been romantic walks. Not only does it get your heart rate going, it also helps you share what’s in your heart without worrying about being interrupted by phones or kids. “We love going for walks at night. It’s like when we were dating in college,” says Sabrina Winder.
4. Prep food together. Spending your precious free time on the weekends prepping healthy meals for the coming week doesn’t sound like much fun, but when you do it with your spouse, like Yvette Jones does, the work goes faster and you get time to bond. Plus, you know, a week’s worth of healthy meals already made!
5. Make it a date night. Several couples told me that they skip the dinner-and-a-movie route and make date night all about physical fun like playing Ultimate Frisbee, going snowshoeing, or discovering new hikes.
6. Be each other’s spotter. Cyndi Buchanan and her husband get hot and sweaty together at least three times a week… at the gym! The couple plan workouts together where they can help and encourage one another. “We are all about pushing each other and calling each other out,” she says, “in a loving way of course!”
7. Create happy memories. Sometimes half the fun of an activity is remembering it later through pictures, funny stories and mementos. Watching Netflix on the couch isn’t exactly conducive to these scrapbook moments, but many physical events are. Doing a mud run, a hot yoga class or rock climbing will give you stories that will entertain you for years. In fact, Theresa Geist and her husband have even made an Ironman their anniversary gift. After all, diamonds can get lost, but memories are forever!
8. Sex counts as a workout! Several couples, who prefer to remain nameless, swear by their steamiest workouts. As long as you’re not doing it dead-starfish style (don’t picture it, I’m sorry), sex can be an incredible interval workout and way more fun than you’re legally allowed to have in any gym!