A new study has found that good health habits of a person can influence his/her spouse in adopting the same behaviour.
The study, published in the journal Health Services Research, has shown that being a good role model can actually help a spouse take up a healthy lifestyle.
When one spouse quits smoking or drinking, gets a cholesterol screening or rolls up a sleeve for a flu shot, the other spouse is more likely to follow suit, the study suggests.
"We consistently find that when one spouse improves his or her behaviour, the other spouse is likely to do so as well," said study co-author Tracy Falba, Ph.D.
"It isn't clear which spouse drives the change, but it is clear that these things happen together," said Falba, a visiting assistant professor in Duke University's Center for Health Policy, Law and Management.
The study found that a spouse's influence differed depending on the health behaviour. The affect of the positive role model was strongest when it came to smoking and drinking and weaker for things like getting more vigorous exercise and having a cholesterol test.
In the case of flu shots, a spouse's influence can be "quite striking," Falba said. Husbands whose wives start getting the yearly shot have a 60 percent possibility of getting the shot themselves, compared with 21 percent chances among husbands whose wives do not get the shot.
Many studies have shown that a spouse's habits and sometimes even marriage itself can influence individual health behaviours.
Unlike some previous research on positive health behaviour, the new study tracked changes in both spouses at the same time.
The findings could point toward a new approach for doctors looking to improve the health of married patients, Falba said.
"For example, interventions to increase exercise or reduce abusive drinking might provide explicit tips about how to get the spouse involved in exercise or how to get the spouse to help reduce drinking cues in the couple's lives," Falba said.
The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Institute on Aging.