Johns Hopkins has presented data for a large group of middle-aged couples, who were asked about exercise habits at two medical visits conducted roughly six years apart. If one was getting at least the recommended amount of exercise each week at the first of those two visits, it was quite likely the other would be, as well, by the time the second visit rolled around.

If you want your partner to exercise more, just keep exercising. Social effects like this have been demonstrated in groups, acting on obesity and smoking (or quitting), too, so it’s not an enormous surprise. There are also some ways in which this population is special: in older adults, some of these changes could have been prompted by a move to a different climate more (or less) to a partner’s liking, or retirement.

And childcare was probably not a common hindrance to getting exercise time in this age group. Childcare should not interfere with exercise — on the contrary, you can pass a gift of healthy habits on to the next generation by involving your kids in regular activity. For less kid-friendly exercise sessions, of course, partners should cover each other.

We can borrow from medical experience, too — this is road well traveled for families where one member has a chronic condition. Here are some modifications of suggestions from WebMD’s recommendations for the partner of someone with diabetes:

Offer help, but don’t “police” your partner. Your partner may have very different ideas about what kind of exercise is right for them — let them decide.

Make your home a place that supports good health goals. If you know your partner tends to raid the snack cabinet, help keep healthier options easier to reach. And if you use an exercise bike as a clothes rack, just stop — make sure any equipment you have is accessible and usable.

Help your partner carve out time for exercise. Many couples are comfortable with a division of labor in which one has more responsibility for home and children, but this can make it tough for the home-centered parent to assert “me time.” Don’t wait for your partner to ask. Pitch in.

Be prepared for frustrations. Establishing an exercise habit can involve setbacks, like injuries, difficulties in sticking to a schedule, or just not liking something as much as you hoped you would. Ask your partner how they want you to support them.

No matter how good our intentions, sometimes our attempts to help can feel intrusive to our loved ones. This crocheted Clippy was made by Lillian Minneman, of Just Stitched.


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