Wedding bells often signal the start of a surge in physical activity for newly married men and women, say researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine.
"The results suggest that marriage may potentially set the stage for natural changes in physical activity that could be capitalized on through appropriate intervention," write Abby C. King, PhD, and her colleagues in Annals of Behavioral Medicine (Vol. 20, No. 2).
In their study, 302 women and 256 men from central California ages 25 to 75 years were evaluated five times over 10 years. Most were white and had some college education. At each evaluation, they reported their marital status and activity level. A seven-point scale was used to describe the latter. The singles-to-marrieds was the only group whose activity levels increased during the second data collection period. Before their weddings, however, they reported lessening physical activity. Researchers speculate that this is "due to stress or time pressures that might occur in preparing to make a transition to a married state."
The 23 participants who went from married to being single showed the same pattern of physical activity as did the 395 who remained married, but the 35 new brides and grooms reported a pattern of increases in physical activity in the several years following marriage, compared to the 105 who remained single.
By the tenth year, however, all four groups showed about the same activity levels, and all had declined slightly since the first year. Marriage did not change overall levels of physical activity. It apparently caused a temporary shift, and that, to researchers, spells "window of opportunity."
"Increasingly, health behavior change has been conceptualized as a series of psychological processes or stages," write Dr. King and colleagues. "Specifically, a life-span perspective encourages an increased focus on periods and transitions in life when behaviors such as physical activity may be significantly altered."
Grants from the National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging supported this work.
Annals of Behavioral Medicine is the official peer-reviewed publication of The Society of Behavioral Medicine. For information about the journal, contact editor Arthur Stone, PhD, (516) 632-8833.