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How does divorce affect physical activity levels?

A recent study measured average daily steps of divorced men and women to determine if variables like socioeconomic status and marital status affect the level of physical activity.

A lack of sufficient physical activity is a growing problem that posits a number of health concerns such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, depression, and cancer. Monitoring the levels of physical activity is certainly an important need worldwide. Understanding the variations in physical activity and understanding how socioeconomic factors and marital status affects this is important to design better health habits.

Previous studies have found that life changes can influence daily physical activity and there are differences based on gender. Socioeconomic factors like employment are also an important predictor of leisure time physical activity. A recent study in Finland determined how changing marital statuses affects men and women’s physical activity levels. Specifically, the study measured the levels of physical activity to determine if socioeconomic status at the start of the study affected the participants’ average daily steps and if this number changes after a change in marital status. They published their results in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health. 

The data for the study was obtained from a separate study of Finnish citizens that began in 1980. In 2007 and 2011, this study obtained data on the average daily steps of the participants. The researchers used this data from 1051 adults between 34-49 years of age.

Women who found new spouses were less active

Between follow-up periods, the study found that the average daily steps increased by a statistically significant number in women but not men. This could be due to the fact that women in Finland are more aware of the importance of physical activity due to the promotion of an active lifestyle during the years between follow-ups. The study also found that women who found new spouses between the follow-up years had decreased physical activity, according to their number of steps.

Divorce linked to less physical activity only in men

Another interesting finding is that divorce led to less physical activity only in men. The authors conclude that unchanged marital status meant stable physical activity habits, but gender does affect physical activity levels. As for socioeconomic status, men and women with the highest socioeconomic status had a significant increase in their average daily steps.

The limitations of the study also need to be considered. Cycling is underestimated and water-based activities are not measured using a pedometer when considering measurements of physical activity. It only takes into account average daily steps. However, one strength of this study is that physical activity reported using pedometer is certainly more accurate than self-reported measures which may have a bias.

Understanding the associations between life changes and physical activity is certainly important as evidenced by this study and this area merits further research. Paying attention to factors like socioeconomic status and marital status is certainly important to live a healthier, active lifestyle.

Written by Sonia Leslie Fernandez, Medical News Writer

Reference: Salin, K., Hirvensalo, M., Kankaanpää, A., Magnussen, C. G., Yang, X., Hutri-kähönen, N., … & Tammelin, T. H. (2018). Associations of partnering transition and socioeconomic status with a four-year change in daily steps among Finnish adults. Scandinavian journal of public health, 1403494818807558.



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