Is it True that Birds of a Feather Flock Together?

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal  (1-21-2013) I found very interesting.  It was about “mixed-weight couples” where one partner is overweight and the other isn’t.  Researchers from the University of Puget Sound and the University of Arizona studied 43 heterosexual couples and found those in the “mixed-weight” category experienced more relationship conflict, including resentfulness and anger, than so-called “same-weight” couples.  The results were published in the December, 2012 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Results also indicated that those couples with the most conflict involved a healthy-weight man and an overweight woman.  When just the man was overweight it wasn’t much of an issue.


It’s not news that men and women are different.  John Gray made that very clear in his famous book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex.   Weight is a very touchy subject and when it comes to relationships, one should always tread lightly.  However, while they certainly exist, “mixed-weight” couples are not the norm.  We know that those in our “warm circle,” which obviously includes spouses, have a huge influence on our behaviors and habits, and ultimately our weight.  A study in the July, 2007 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that if your spouse is obese then you are 37% more likely to be obese.  It might be surprising to learn that if your friends are obese you are 171% more likely to be obese!  As I often say, when if comes to your health, which includes your weight, you are NOT the Lone Ranger!

In the Cooper Wellness Program we don’t often see “mixed-weight” couples.  Usually those that come with their spouse have similar BMI’s and their overall health is fairly comparable.  What we do see quite often though is a spouse motivated to improve his or her health that comes through the program solo.  Then, after they spend six days getting “Cooperized” they leave campus completely convinced they will return home and “motivate” their spouse to hop on the wellness bus and embrace a healthy lifestyle.  “Whoa, slow down!”  In cases like this you need to be careful.

The last lecture of the Wellness Week is called “Managing Expectations” and its placement is intentional.  We know that if you are willing to invest a reasonable chunk of change and six days of your life to come through the Wellness Program you are most likely in a “stage of change” that vastly improves your odds of success.  More simply, you are ready to change.  Remember, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”  But ONLY when the student is ready.

It’s human nature that once you participate in a positive experience you want to share it with those you love.  The problem however is if your loved one isn’t ready to change then your unbridled enthusiasm will most likely not be received as you intend it.  In fact, it might completely backfire which could then potentially extinguish your flame.  I’m not saying this always happens…. just don’t be surprised if it does.

Change is difficult and when a spouse or close friend decides to change, even if it’s a positive change, then it often is viewed as a threat to the one being “left behind.”  “What’s wrong with the way we’ve been ____________(fill in the blank….living, eating, exercising, etc.) for all these years?  Am I suddenly not good enough for you?”  It can lead to some very difficult, but necessary, conversations.

Stanford’s Dr. BJ Fogg teaches that as humans we are lazy, social, and creatures of habit.  Overcoming the status quo is often very hard but relying on the experience of experts can dramatically improve your odds of success.  Human “energy” can be phenomenally helpful but remember that we are all unique and when it comes to change, those we love don’t always move at the same speed.

Take a Seat

From a guy that normally recommends to “walk the dog even if you don’t have one” the suggestion to “take a seat” seems somewhat contradictory.  Don’t worry though, there’s a very logical explanation and it’s based on science.

A study done by researchers in Brazil concluded that testing a person’s ability to sit down on the floor and then rise up can predict how long they will live.  That’s right, the less support you need to sit down on the floor and then stand back up is an outstanding predictor of your future.  The researchers tested over 2,000 men and women between the ages of 51 and 80.  Those that needed the most support for sitting and standing, including bracing with a knee or hand or both, had a 6.5 times greater risk of dying within the next six years.  Speed was not a factor in the assessment.  The study was published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention.

When I speak to groups I often ask them to stand up from their chairs without using their arms.  This is one of the many “activities of daily living” that experts use to assess frailty and disability.  Other activities include dressing yourself, feeding yourself, using the bathroom without assistance, and walking down a hall and back in a prescribed time.  Rising from a chair with only your legs helps to assess lower body and core strength, flexibility, and balance.  These outcomes are obviously related to the risk of falls and fractures which are major concerns for older adults.  They’re also directly related to your quality of life.  If you can’t stand up without using your arms then your lifestyle is clearly compromised.  You are by definition “limited.”  Years of research indicates we can push back the onset of disability by between 13 and 20 years by maintaining our fitness levels.  That’s huge!

By now I wouldn’t be surprised if you have already tested yourself on the Brazilian sit/stand test.  Getting a perfect score of 10 is the goal….five for sitting and five for standing.  Points and half points are deducted for things like touching a hand or knee to the ground while sitting or pushing off with a hand on one knee on the way up.  If you wobble on the way up or down that will cost you half a point each.  In the Brazilian study, more than half of the subjects between 76 and 80 failed the tests, scoring three points or less.  70% of those under 60 earned perfect or near perfect scores of eight, nine or 10.  The higher your score the higher your ratio of muscle power to body weight….and the longer you will live.  No matter how you score today remember you can improve that ratio, and your overall quality of life, with activities such as weight training, yoga, Pilates, Zumba, kettle bells, and swimming.

It doesn’t matter where you are.  What matters is the direction you are headed.

Clearly the goal is to live and not just be alive.  By maintaining your fitness you can be assured you will never have to shout, “Help, I’ve fallen and can’t get up.”

Stay well!