4 Surprising Ways Your Partner can Affect Your Cardiovascular Health
Living a healthy lifestyle is one way to ensure long-term cardiovascular
health. But what if your partner isn’t exactly a poster child for healthy
choices? Are you doomed?
Not at all, says Lou Soltys, MSW, a clinical social worker who leads
Lifestyle Change groups at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Participants in her group learn to make small, sustainable changes, and
more often than not, their partners come along for the ride.
from the University of Edinburgh supports Soltys’ optimistic outlook. As
part of the Generation Scotland project, researchers reviewed the health
records of 20,000 people, studying the link between obesity, genetics and
lifestyle habits. Sixteen measures were looked at, including hip ratio,
blood pressure, body fat content and body mass index (BMI).
Their findings indicate that by the time you reach middle age — genetics
aside — the lifestyle you share with your partner has the biggest influence
on whether you’ll place a burden on your heart by becoming obese. Even
people with a family history of obesity reduced their risk by making
healthier choices. Knowing that lifestyle changes in adulthood can help
fight obesity is great news for anyone who has ever worried about having
And while for some people, a partner’s unfortunate habits make it harder
for to live healthfully, for others, joining forces with their partner can
be a big help.
A Healthy Partnership?
Let’s take a look at the many ways your significant other can affect your
Being obese — having too much body fat — increases your risk for high blood
pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol and diabetes. In fact, waist size
alone is an accurate predictor of cardiovascular risk.
found that women with waist sizes of 35 inches or higher had double the
risk of dying from heart disease, compared to women with waist sizes of
less than 28 inches.
Danelle Olson, RD (right),
is a nutritionist in the
(CVI) at BIDMC. When patients with a family history of cardiovascular
disease — or who already have high cholesterol — are referred to the CVI,
part of their initial visit includes a session with Olson.
“Many of them are at a crossroads: change their eating habits or start
taking medication,” she says. “I’m there to walk them through what a
heart-healthy diet looks like.”
When it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes, having a supportive
partner can make all the difference in the world.
“If you’re not the person in your family who cooks and does the food
shopping, it can be tough,” says Olson. “I've seen patients who have a hard
time changing their eating because they cook to what their spouse or family
2. Activity Level
If physical activity were a drug, a daily dose of it would provide more
health benefits than any known medication. Physical activity’s effect on
cardiovascular risk factors is
significant: it helps lower your blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. And, it increases
your HDL (good) cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
In fact, just taking three 10-minute walks every day can reduce your risk
of heart attack and stroke by 10 percent. And if you spend a lot of time
sitting down, getting up and walking for 10 minutes every two hours can
prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Having a workout buddy — someone to be active with — can keep you going
when your motivation flags. But if physical activity hasn’t always been on
your agenda, it can be a challenge to get everyone on board with your new
Soltys helps participants in her Lifestyle Changes groups put a positive
spin on physical activity. Instead of an onerous item on their daily to-do
lists, they reframe it as an opportunity to spend time with friends, family
and their partners.
Her advice? “You don’t need to join a gym. Just look for ways to add
activity to everyday life. Instead of meeting a friend for lunch, meet to
take a walk. Put on music you love and dance. Make a family walk your new
3. Alcohol Use
If your partner routinely drinks more than is healthy, you’re likely to
mirror that behavior, to the detriment of your health. Too much alcohol:
Raises triglyceride levels in the blood
Leads to high blood pressure and heart failure
Can cause obesity due to the overconsumption of calories
May lead to cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death
But according to
, moderate drinking — one drink per day for women and two drinks per day
for men — won’t lead to weight gain.
On the other hand, alcohol provides empty calories. If you’re trying to
manage your weight, this could be a place to cut back. Alcohol also acts as
a depressant and an insomniac, which, of course, is not how it’s
advertised. Alcohol once in a while, for a treat, is not a problem.
Frequent use is something you might want to think twice about.
Does your partner snore, or suffer from sleep apnea or insomnia? Are you an
early bird married to a night owl?
Is there a TV in your bedroom? Any or all of these situations can affect
your sleep — and your cardiovascular health.
Participants in BIDMC’s Lifestyle Change groups are often surprised to find
out how much sleep matters to their health. Lack of sleep has been linked
to chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, cancer
“People in my groups think that a healthy lifestyle is just about eating
right and getting more exercise,” says Soltys. “We bring in a sleep
specialist to talk to them about the impact of sleep deprivation. We talk
about their barriers to healthy sleep. And then we look for ways to
Try a Little Togetherness
Social support from friends, family and loved ones is a critical factor in
healthy behavior change. They help us get and stay motivated. They keep us
on track. And they can even make healthy changes seem like fun. If your
partner balks when you try to make healthy changes, remember this advice
Don’t try to make massive, wholesale changes. Get your partner on board
with trying with one small thing, like a new vegetable you’ve never
Reframe physical activity as “you time,” something that brings the two
of you together.
Replace sedentary couple activities with more active choices. For
example, instead of always going to the movies, try going bowling.
After all, what a gift for a couple to share: good health and well-being.
Above content provided by the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult