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"Lifestyle improvement after a heart attack is a crucial part of preventing repeat events," said study author Lotte Verweij, a registered nurse and Ph.D. student at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, in 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."
The study included 411 heart attack survivors who, along with receiving usual care, were referred to up to three lifestyle change programs for weight loss, increased physical activity and quitting smoking.
The patients' partners could attend the programs for free and were encouraged by nurses to take part. Nearly half (48%) of the patients' partners participated, which was defined as attending at least once.
Compared to those without a partner, patients with a participating partner were more than twice as likely to improve in at least one of the three areas (weight loss, exercise, smoking cessation) within a year, the findings showed.
When the influence of partners was analyzed in the three areas separately, patients with a participating partner were more successful in shedding weight compared to patients without a partner, according to the study presented Thursday at a virtual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
"Patients with partners who joined the weight-loss program lost more weight compared to patients with a partner who did not join the program," Verweij said in a society news release.
"Couples often have comparable lifestyles, and changing habits is difficult when only one person is making the effort. Practical issues come into play, such as grocery shopping, but also psychological challenges, where a supportive partner may help maintain motivation," she explained.
-- Robert Preidt
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