Marriage Keeps Wives Fit; Husbands Get Flabby

Wives are more likely to stick to a weight-loss plan after their wedding than husbands are, a new study finds. Here's how to keep your man on track.

July 13, 2011
RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Women in relationships always seem to get the short end of the stick. Study after study has found that women put on weight after they get married and have a difficult time losing it after they have children. But a new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has found that men are more likely to ease up on their fitness routines after the wedding bells have quieted down than women are, which could lead to late-life weight gain.

THE DETAILS: The authors used survey data from a long-running study conducted on adults at a clinic in Texas. Their sample included 8,871 participants—a majority of whom were men—who had undergone an initial treadmill fitness test and a second follow-up test about three years later. Those results were then compared with each person's marital status when he or she came in for the initial test and for the follow-up.

Most (about 85 percent) of the participants were married at both the start of the study and at follow-up. Among the remaining 15 percent of participants, fitness scores remained constant among men who remained single, but they declined for single men who got married.

Fitness scores actually increased among single women who remained single, while scores for single women who got married remained the same. Among divorcees, married men who got divorced saw an increase in fitness levels, while divorced men who remarried became less fit. Married women who got divorced saw a decrease in fitness levels.

WHAT IT MEANS: Seems like husbands could benefit from following their wives to the gym, or on their daily walks, or whatever other activity women do to keep up their fitness levels. The authors admit that the high number of men in their sample may have skewed their results a little, but what they found does coincide with what they called the "marriage market hypothesis," in which married individuals aren't as concerned about their need to attract a mate as single people are. Past research and results of the current study suggest that this hypothesis may hold true for men more so than women.

That's good news for women, but men apparantly have a harder time keeping up with their exercises after the honeymoon. And while it's one thing to get your husband to come with you when you take your dog for a walk, it's another to keep him motivated to do that day after day. A survey from Ohio State University published earlier this year found that men are more motivated to exercise when they get support from friends; women are more successful when the support comes from their spouse and family.

If you want your husband to keep up his exercise routine without coming across as a nag, here are a few suggestions:

• Find "friendly" activities for him. "Say you belong to a gym and you notice the facility has some recreational team sports leagues, like basketball or baseball," says Jessica Matthews MS, RYT, certification director and exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. "Bring that to his attention." Sports and other team activities are easy venues for men to socialize and get that friend-inspired support to keep him interested. "If your gym doesn't offer those kinds of recreational sports leagues, research some of the leagues in your area. It definitely gives them that positive encouragement without coming across as pushy," she says.

• Let him off the leash. You don't always have to do things together. Women and men are drawn to different forms of physical exercise, says Matthews. Women lean toward cardiovascular exercises, such as spin classes or running on a treadmill, while men generally favor weight lifting and other forms of strength training. So, while it's good to do things together as a couple, such as going on hikes or bike rides on the weekend, recognize that not every "exercise" has to be a couple's activity. "Some people like to go to the gym alone or exercise on their own," says Matthews. If you do feel like your husband isn't hitting the gym often enough, convince him to go with you, but then go your separate ways once you get there.

• Recognize that the gym isn't the only place to improve your fitness levels. "Don't always think of exercise as time spent at the gym," says Matthews. "Go outside and play with your kids—play a game of tag, throw the baseball around. People assume that if they're not sweating profusely, it's not really exercise." For instance, walking the dog for 30 minutes will burn 167 calories in a 200-pound individual, and playing with your children for 30 minutes will burn 191 calories.

• Clean together. If you really want to get your husband to exercise and help you around the house, get him to clean. Cleaning house, studies have shown, lowers your risk of an early death by 31 percent, and 30 minutes of dusting, straightening up, and other light household chores burn as much as 119 calories for a 200-pound adult.

• Turn off the TV. One last exercise motivator that can help hubbie and wife alike is simply turning off the TV. A study published earlier this year found that people who watched no more than three hours of TV per day burned 119 calories more per day than people who watched an unlimited amount of TV. Maybe because they spent more time cleaning?

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