Couples can motivate each other to exercise, be healthy

After being overweight for years, Jill Nolan decided to make a change in December 2013. She had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, removing part of her stomach to reduce its capacity.

Her husband, Neal, said his weight had gone up and down over the years, but since reaching his 40s he could no longer lose weight. Mr. Nolan, now 48, had gastric bypass surgery, which also shrinks stomach size, in February 2014.

To ensure they could keep the weight off as they lost it, the Nolans, of the North Side, started working out and eating better.

Mr. Nolan has lost 120 pounds; and Mrs. Nolan, 140 pounds.

“We wanted to be healthier and feel better, and we both really do,” Mrs. Nolan, 50, said.

Thanks to their efforts, the Nolans were able to ride a roller coaster together, something they hadn’t done in their 24 years of marriage.

They both credit their success to working together, and they aren’t alone.

Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that, if one spouse exercises, the other spouse is more likely to exercise as well.

The research found that active people are likely to marry active people, said Laura Cobb, a co-author. And as with the Nolans, if one spouse increased his or her physical activity, the other spouse did the same, Cobb said.

The researchers used data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which began following 15,792 middle-age adults in 1987 in Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi and North Carolina.

The 3,261 spouse pairs in the study were asked about their exercise activity in 1987 and 1989 and again at a second medical visit about six years later.

The American Heart Association recommends that people exercise at a moderate intensity for 150 minutes each week or at a vigorous intensity for 75 minutes each week.

Cobb and the other researchers found that, when a woman was meeting the suggested exercise level at her first visit, her husband was 70 percent more likely to be meeting that level at the follow-up visit. But when a man met the recommended level, his wife was only 40 percent more likely to be getting enough exercise by her later visit.

Sarah Silk, an exercise physiologist at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center, said that people who have a spouse involved stick to their healthy-living plan better than people who don’t .

“If everyone is on board, it’s usually healthier for everyone in the end,” she said.

Making a big lifestyle change can be difficult, but having someone else do it at the same time can make things easier, Silk said. “You both don’t want to eat broccoli, but if you do it, you’re going to see the benefits of it.”

She worked with the Nolans in a pilot program at the health center for people who had undergone weight-loss surgery. Silk or another exercise physiologist worked out with the Nolans once a week. The Nolans were also encouraged to exercise on their own.

“I thought it was a benefit they did it together,” Silk said. “They pushed each other to do better.”

Although the two now exercise separately, Mrs. Nolan said knowing that her husband is working out motivates her.

“Keeps me a little bit more accountable,” she said.

Mr. Nolan said the two now split a meal when eating out and help each other avoid certain foods.

Mrs. Nolan said she had a weak moment a few weeks ago and bought a Pepsi — something she hadn’t had since her surgery — but her husband talked her out of drinking it.

“We do keep each other in line,” she said.