The Effect of Endurance Training on Spousal Social Life

“Spouses influence each other’s exercise habits, for better and worse, more than is often recognized, according to an interesting new study of the workout habits of middle-aged couples. The study found that changes in one spouse’s routine tend to be echoed in the other’s, highlighting the extent to which our exercise behavior is shaped not just by our personal intentions but by the people around us as well.”How to Get Your Spouse to Exercise, Gretchen Reynolds in the NY Times

In a handful of recent studies, researchers at San Diego’s Institute for Behavioral Athletics have found that if a person is married to a runner or triathlete, they are much more likely to express dissatisfaction with the quality of their social life. According to Institute Director Dr. Florence “Flo” Lopari, these studies highlight the extent to which our social behavior is shaped not just by our personal intentions but by the people around us as well.

 

One study looked at how often couples engaged in common social interactions that involved being out with friends or included exposure to large groups of people. These interactions included attending or hosting dinner parties, going out to plays or movies, attending picnics, visiting museums or exhibits, etc. According to Dr. Lopari, couples in which one of the partners exercised more than an hour a day, on average, were far more likely to eschew such activities in favor of eating at home, doing laundry, watching movies on Netflix, and going to bed early.

“We were surprised by the extent to which otherwise normally gregarious and fun-loving people were influenced by the amount of time their spouses spent training, competing, and recovering. But it makes sense — when one spouse is training for a marathon, their partner is much less likely to suggest an evening of drinks and dancing.”

According to Dr. Lopari, chronic high-volume exercise by one or both partners also results in decreased spontaneity in social activities, as the need for rest and recovery begin taking priority over having adventures and searching for opportunities to meet new people. Among such couples, even vacations tend to be planned carefully to enable continued training. Perhaps most worrisome is the tendency for travel to focus on participating in some long race or event, leaving little time for anything else.

As part of her research, Dr. Lopari has developed a scale for quantifying what she refers to as “Prolonged Training Social Deficit,” or PTSD. Her team administered surveys to over 600 couples to see how each partner scored on the PTSD scale. Dr. Lopari and her colleagues found that if one partner engaged in strenuous endurance-related training on a daily basis. their partner was 76% more likely to score above normal than someone with a normal partner. The effect appeared to be influenced by age, as the correlation was weaker in younger couples, but grew stronger over time. Other researchers have reported similar results when studying couples in which one partner has completed a marathon in the last year.

As for the practical implications. Dr. Lopari argues that the key to reversing PTSD is identifying the condition early. “With an early diagnosis, there is a wide variety of treatment options,” she writes. “These range from simple remedies such as scheduling date nights and running-free vacations, to more aggressive interventions, such as marathon detox programs.”

But even Dr. Lopari admits that there’s still more research to be done. “One result that continues to puzzle us is why, when both partners run, they actually have a better social life than couples where neither partner runs. It’s possible — however hard to understand — that these running couples actually leverage their exercise habits to create opportunities for social interaction. Instead of the grim, isolated existence we expected, these couples seem to be living it up, treating races like parties and the rigorous training as an excuse for getting together with good friends.”

“But that’s what I like about this field. We get to study the real weirdos.”

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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5 Responses to The Effect of Endurance Training on Spousal Social Life

  1. Kevin says:

    I’m not clicking on your “one study” link because I have no doubt that this is the truth. Mariani has definitely been suffering from PTSD ever since I became a runner.

  2. Robin says:

    I was hoping for an April Fool post this year, and when I saw the name Flo Lipari I realized that my wish had been granted. Thanks!

  3. Excellent post! Though for an April Fool’s joke, it rings very true for me and my wife!

  4. Jon Waldron says:

    Thanks for all the comments! My readership is very hard to fool…

    Actually, when I first had the idea I thought it would be a hilarious and far-fetched spoof. The more I wrote, the less far-fetched it seemed!

  5. Tyler says:

    It took me like 4 paragraphs to realize this was a joke.

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