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How to Begin an Exercise Regimen
Exercising is an important lifestyle change that you should begin making if you haven't already. The purpose of this article is to get you from sitting in your computer chair, to the point where you are seconds away from sweating, burning calories and improving your overall health. 

If you buy it at the grocery store....
Scientists know that asking people to report on their own diet is a flawed means of finding out what people eat. People tend to minimize eating things that are bad for them (the "self-report bias") and over-report eating what they perceive to be good for them (the "social desirability bias"), because they don't want to appear to be unhealthy. It's understandable, but it makes it difficult to accurately assess the effects of diet on health.

Why don't studies of what people "should" weigh take body type and muscle mass into account?
I was with a group of women who attended your wellness seminar during our lunch hour recently. During the drive back to our work site, one question was focal: Why do all the studies about what people "should" weigh never take body type and muscle mass into account?


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Weight Loss Affects Your Partner, Too

We know that it's common for couples to gain weight after marriage and for the weights of partners to be correlated at the start of marriage. There's also research to show that the weight of both partners in a marriage change in a similar way over time. So it's reasonable to think that if one spouse tries to lose weight, that might have an effect on the weight of the other spouse.

A multi-university group of medical and psychiatric researchers decided to examine that very question as a subset of an ongoing study known as Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes). That study focuses on the effect of weight loss on cardiovascular disease in overweight people who have type 2 diabetes.

Over 350 couples signed up to participate in this substudy (Int J Obesity 2008;32(11): 1678-1684). One of each couple actually participated in treatment, while the spouse or partner simply agreed to answer a questionnaire at the close of the study (after one year). At the beginning of the study, both the participants and their spouses were weighed and their height measured. Each also completed a questionnaire on their dietary habits and their physical activity. Most interestingly, they also completed inventories of the foods in their home and provided information on what, if any, exercise equipment was available to them.

The couples were randomly assigned to one of two groups: a control group, which received basic diabetes support and education information, and a test group, which received both the basic diabetes education plus other weight-loss skills, which included intensive training in changing their own behavior, enhancing support for their weight loss efforts, and involving friends and family in their exercise routines. None of the spouses were required or even expected to attend the educational meetings, regardless of which group their spouses were assigned to.

After one year both partners in the couples again were weighed and answered questionnaires on their dietary habits, physical activity, the foods in their home and their exercise equipment. The spouses – those who did not participate in the educational sessions – were asked if they had tried to lose weight in the last year, and if they did, what strategies they used.

As you might expect, those persons who directly participated in the enhanced educational measures lost more weight than those who received the basic diabetes education: an average of about 10 kilograms (about 20 pounds) as opposed to a little over 1 kilogram (about 2.6 pounds). Their spouses also lost more weight than the spouses of those in the basic diabetes education program, even though they did not attend the educational programs. Twenty-six percent of the spouses in the enhanced treatment group lost 5% or more of their total body weight, while that was true of only 9% of the spouses of the standard treatment group.

What this means for you

Weight loss is easiest if it's a family affair, true. But if you're working on your weight and your partner isn't, don't despair. Your work to improve your health will help to improve your partner's health. Just reducing the number of high-fat foods in your home will help – in this study, getting those high-fat foods out of the house was related to weight loss in the untreated partner.

First posted: February 25, 2009