How to be a good health nag

Jane Murphy / 06 June 2016 ( 05 August 2016 )

Worried about your partner's health? Find out what you can do to encourage your partner to address their health problems and visit the doctor.

Recent research by Saga Health Insurance shows very few people - just 4% of those questioned - say they pay attention to public health campaigns, whereas in the same study, 29% of male respondents said the influence of their partners is the most important factor when it came to improving their health and fitness.

In fact, a partner’s influence is so impactful that nearly one in 10 adults in the study say if it wasn’t for their partner encouraging them they would never visit the GP. 

How to make the most of your GP appointment

However, nobody likes to be nagged. And the vast majority of us don't enjoy nagging. It causes stress, anxiety, frustration and countless arguments – and rarely results in anything positive or productive.

Even so, if you're genuinely worried about your partner's health or wellbeing, reminding him or her of your concerns at every possible opportunity may seem like the simplest way to encourage them to address the problem.

Let's face it: men aren't always very good at looking after themselves. They're far less likely than women to consult their GP or even visit a pharmacy, according to research for the Men's Health Forum.

Men are also twice as likely to have inadequate levels of 'health literacy'. For instance, they tend to have lower recall and understanding of cancer warning signs than women. So a nudge or six in the right direction from a concerned spouse can't do any harm, can it?

Prostate cancer awareness

Or can it? If you're constantly nagging your partner to stop drinking or go for a prostate check, you may be harming his health in another way. That's according to a 2014 study from the University of Copenhagen, which found that people who are constantly nagged by family members or friends are twice as likely to die prematurely. The researchers suggest this may be a result – albeit indirectly – of living with long-term stress. Men appeared to be more vulnerable.

Stress - what it does to your health

Health nag tip 1: show your support

So what's a healthy alternative to nagging? Take smoking, for example. Everybody knows the health risks. But nagging a smoker to give up isn't going to help them quit. What's needed instead is a mixture of practical and emotional support, says a new study at the University of Aberdeen and University of Zurich, which followed 100 couples consisting of one smoker and one non-smoker.

“We know there are many things that are not helpful in stopping smoking – such as nagging or trying to control the situation,” says Dr Gertraud Stadler, who led the research. “These results show that we should encourage the partner to offer emotional support, as well as practical help like taking care of the kids. There are lots of things that partners can do to help their significant others quit.”

Your guide to giving up smoking

One key problem with being nagged, of course, is that it makes us feel worse about ourselves. It highlights our weaknesses, failings and possible problems ahead – so can make us more likely to indulge in unhealthy behaviour, such as overeating or drinking, in a bid to cope with the situation.

Support and encouragement, on the other hand, is far more likely to be met with positive action and acceptance.

Fix that health niggle

Health nag tip 2: set a good example

When it comes to healthy living, it's important to lead by example. If you think your partner needs to cut down on alcohol, there's no point telling him he's had enough booze for one night while pouring yourself another large glass of sauvignon blanc. People are far more likely to successfully adopt healthy habits if their partners make positive changes at the same time, according to a recent study at University College London.

Are you drinking more than you think?

Another tip? Make sure you both go for regular health checks and take up screening invitations. Again, it's a little unfair to nag your partner to book his flu jab if you haven't booked yours either.

Health nag tip 3: don't get mad, get results

Feel ready to broach the subject? Do try to stay patient and don't raise your voice. Simply explain your concerns and reassure your partner you'll give him all the support he needs. But if he gets angry or feigns indifference, it's time to back off, rather than run headlong into a stress-inducing argument. If you start to become emotional, step away!

How to stop arguing with your partner

It can also help to point out some of the positives that may result from addressing a health issue. You could highlight how much more enjoyment you'd get from life – the places you'll visit and all the activities you'll try – if you were both fitter and healthier, for example.

Ultimately, it's wise to encourage small steps, rather than reeling off an overwhelming list of lifestyle changes that need to be made. So he's agreed to see the GP? Great. Congratulate yourself on a job well done and leave it at that for now. 

Small steps to big health benefits

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.