Significant others can help heart attack survivors form healthy habits.
A new paper explains that heart attack survivors have a better chance of changing unhealthy habits or to form healthy ones when their partners join their efforts. This effect was seen in programs for survivors that focused on weight reduction, physical activity, and smoking cessation. Those who took part in such programs and lived with a partner who also took up the same challenge were the most successful.
Till diet do us part
"Lifestyle improvement after a heart attack is a crucial part of preventing repeat events," said study author Ms. Lotte Verweij, a registered nurse and PhD student, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands.
"Our study shows that when spouses join the effort to change habits, patients have a better chance of becoming healthier -- particularly when it comes to losing weight."
This paper is a follow-up study of previous research and focused on the role our significant others play in efforts to change behavior. It included 824 patients who were randomly assigned to an intervention group (lifestyle programs on top of usual care) or a control group (usual care alone). A total of 411 patients were allotted to the experimental group and referred to up to three of the programs (weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation). Their partners could join for free and were encouraged to do so by nurses. Participation was defined as attending at least one session of the program.
Nearly half (48%) of the partners joined up. Participants with a partner present were more than twice as likely to see improvements in at least one of three areas within a year. The greatest influence of partners on any of the three areas was weight loss -- patients with a participating partner were 2.71 times more likely to reduce their weight compared to patients without a partner.
"Patients with partners who joined the weight loss programme lost more weight compared to patients with a partner who did not join the programme," said Ms. Verweij.
"If partners contribute to adopting healthy habits, it could become an important recommendation to avoid recurrent heart attacks."
She explains that because couple often have similar lifestyles, changing our habits can become hard if only one person is putting in the effort. Practical limitations like grocery shopping or emotional ones (like feeling a lack of support for our efforts) seem small but they make or break our resolve. Finding a lower effect of partners on smoking or physical activity might suggest that these are more influenced by our own motivations and persistence, although "his hypothesis needs more investigation," she adds.
The paper "The influence of partners on lifestyle-related risk factors in patients after an acute coronary syndrome. Results from the RESPONSE-2 randomized controlled trial" has been presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020 – The Digital Experience.