Marriage and Fitness: An Improbable Pair?

Can marriage be bad for your health? Maybe, if you let it keep you out of the gym.  According to new research, single men and women are in slightly better shape than married men and women.  

A new study reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed  6,900 men and 1,971 women for just over three years at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. They had physical exams, reported on their lifestyle habits, and underwent treadmill tests to gauge their physical fitness levels.  Researchers found the men and women who married during the time they were involved in the study experienced a minor reduction in cardiovascular fitness.  Men who divorced during the study demonstrated modest improvement in cardiovascular fitness.  Women, however, did not demonstrate the same bump in their fitness level if they divorced during the study. The biggest fitness impact came when previously divorced men remarried, which caused their cardiovascular fitness level to dip.

Does this mean marriage is bad for your physical fitness?  Not necessarily.  Researchers were careful to point out that there wasn't a huge difference in cardiovascular fitness levels between single, married, and divorced study participants. Marital status was only linked with small fitness changes and this study does not prove a definite link between marital status and fitness. 

Researchers acknowledged that individual fitness levels involve a complex mix of factors including weight, body composition, lifestyle habits, smoking, genetics, and other health factors.  They said these study results might support the idea that once people quit dating and marry, they might be less compelled to stay in tip-top shape.  If they stay single or get divorced, however, they're more motivated to maintain their "dating profile."  

This research may be a good reminder about the social factors that impact how and why we exercise.  It may also remind married couples that fitness is just as important after the wedding as before.  What are the unofficial benefits of making fitness part of marriage?

  • Couples that work out together can motivate each other to take good care of their health.  
  • Young or newly married couples can establish fitness as a priority and include exercise in their personal and family calendars. 
  • When or if children arrive, "fit couples" will already be in the habit of including fitness in their family's health plan. 
  • Exercise is proven to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing. 
  • It's an essential factor in weight reduction and weight management, muscle strength and flexibility. 

All of these elements are linked to improved mental outlook, self-esteem, personal attitude, and sexual satisfaction. Add in the cardiovascular, immune system, and disease prevention benefits associated with regular exercise and you've got a prescription for a long, happy marriage.



American Journal of Epidemiology Am. J. Epidemiol. (2011) 173 (3): 337-344. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwq362 First published online: December 1, 2010

In Fitness and Health? A Prospective Study of Changes in Marital Status and Fitness in Men and Women Francisco B. Ortega, Wendy J. Brown, Duck-chul Lee, Meghan Baruth, Xuemei Sui, Steven N. Blair