How is our lifestyle influenced by our spouse’s lifestyle changes? Effects of smoking and alcohol consumption have been examined in this regard but few studies have assessed this relationship when it comes to physical activity. A recent study in The American Journal of Epidemiology has done just that.
The study included more than 3,000 married couples aged 45-64 years. Participants were examined twice, at baseline and after 6 years. Physical activity was assessed using questions about the frequency, duration and intensity of sports/exercise and leisure activities.
The results showed that at the first study visit there was a positive association between an individual’s level of sports/exercise and leisure activity and his or her spouse’s activity in both domains.
The changes in physical activity over time showed a similar pattern. Changes in a woman’s level of sport/exercise and leisure activity were positively associated with changes in her spouse’s physical activity – and vice versa. The association between the spouses was independent of whether the activity level increased or decreased during the 6 year period. This means that married couples influence each other’s activity level for better or for worse…
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Furthermore, the authors found that individuals had higher odds of meeting the health authorities’ recommendations for physical activity if their spouse met the recommendations at both visits or only at the follow-up visit.
The article suggests several potential explanations for the results. It points out that people tend to choose spouses with similar attitudes, personality and behavior. It is therefore possible that the physical activity patterns of the respective spouses were established before they met, but this does not account for similar physical activity changes over time. It is also possible that the physical activity levels and changes are a product of similar physical and social environments, as well as equal access to resources. Furthermore, one of the spouses could potentially heavily influence the behavior of both spouses. Finally, the spouses become more similar to each other over time, and perhaps this also applies to the physical activity level.
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What do you think is the explanation for these results, how do the results fit with your experiences, and, even though cohabitants were not included in this study; will the same apply to them?
Hallgeir Viken, PhD Candidate at CERG