How to get your partner to prioritise their health

Are you worried about your partner’s health? Or do you watch anxiously over the lifestyle choices they make? What about your grown children? Anxiety over the health of our loved ones is extremely common, especially if they’re male! The Victorian Government health website reveals that Australian men are more likely than women to lead unhealthy lifestyles, have poorer health literacy and are less likely to engage with health services. They’re also more likely to die from preventable disease. While men are the main cause of so much of the hand-wringing around the country over healthy lifestyle behaviours, there are, of course, a number of women who cause concern for these reasons, too. Whoever we’re worried about, the most important question is what can we do about it?

The good news is that some people can have a profound impact on their partner’s health. Recent research by Saga Health Insurance reveals that 29 per cent of male respondents said the influence of their partner was the most important factor when it came to improving their health and fitness. And one in 10 adults in the study said if it wasn’t for their partner’s encouragement they would never get to the doctor.

Research suggests that ‘encouragement’ is the key word here. While the temptation is to chip away at the situation and, let’s face it, hassle and nag, a study from the University of Copenhagen revealed that nagging by a partner can increase a man or woman’s mortality risk by two or three times the normal rate. The research reinforces the fact that nagging can cause stress, which isn’t great for health or making positive choices. Rather, a study on quitting cigarettes found that instead of nagging, a mix of emotional and practical support – such as helping to remove stress factors from the smoker’s life – made the difference.

Here’s five (nag-free) ways to encourage your partner to improve their health.

1. Uncover the reasons behind the bad habits

Whether your loved one has the odd unhealthy habit or a deeply concerning addiction, there are usually reasons why. We all know that vices and addiction can be self-perpetuating purely due to the nature of addiction and habit – it’s amazing how quickly something becomes ingrained and a fear of going without becomes entrenched. However, stress, exhaustion and depression compound unhealthy behaviours, partly due to a loss of the energy required to battle the habit, and also because levels of self-care drop, especially during periods of depression. Encouraging discussions about how your loved one is feeling or why they are finding it difficult to prioritise their health, helping to tackle any stress or unhappiness around work or retirement, encouraging exercise and helping to enable rest and relaxation may lift their spirits and impact their habits.

2. Consider why they’re doctor-phobic

While studies show men are just more reluctant to visit a doctor than women, reluctance among both genders can be due to fear of a difficult diagnosis if symptoms are present. The temptation to keep their head in the sand can be strong for some people. Stay optimistic rather than fatalistic, but explain gently that you care about them and would feel greatly relieved if they had their symptoms checked out. You could make this easier and more low key for them by suggesting you make an appointment for them when you make your next one. Some people are just bad at getting around to things. However, don’t push it – making an issue of something may cause them to dig their heels in deeper.

3. Live by example

It’s a win-win for everyone if you make an extra effort to be proactive about your own health in the face of concerns about someone else’s. At home, eating and cooking healthily can inspire someone to do the same without much effort. Suggesting you both walk to an engagement rather than drive is an easy way to start exercising, as is doing an activity they enjoy. Tackling your own health worries or bad habits can inspire someone to do the same – especially when they hear about positive outcomes or see that a medical situation was easily resolved. By focusing on yourself you’ll become the inspiration rather than the watchdog.

4. Reward small steps

When your loved one takes any positive steps be sure to respond enthusiastically rather than pointing out the things they haven’t done yet. Whether it’s a night off the booze, a walk, an earlier night or a check-up, acknowledging the act – while making sure you don’t sound patronising – can give him or her a boost. Many people feel that engaging in healthier habits is just too overwhelming, so recognising that small steps count can create the confidence to ramp it up.

5. Check your expectations

When in a relationship with someone, whether romantically, as a parent or as a friend, it’s easy to feel so invested in their wellbeing that it becomes difficult to step back and respect their decisions if you don’t agree with them. Yet the conflict this can cause can be far more damaging to the relationship than the issues. Not only do we all have different ideas of what it means to be healthy and how much we want to prioritise our health, but some people are thoroughly aware they have issues that need to be tackled and will reach that point themselves, in their own time. Think of the smoker who goes through a packet a day, seemingly oblivious to the risks, until the day they quit. Changes do happen – they may just take time, and perhaps a gentle nudge.

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This material has been prepared for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on as a substitute for health and medical advice from a qualified health professional. You should seek the advice of a qualified health professional regarding your health or a medical condition.