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Not a guilt trip: New study looks at couples' path to staying in shape

Kristen B. Morales

February 23, 2018

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Starting a new exercise routine can be intimidating. But if you had a companion to exercise with, would you be more likely to stick with it?

That's the question University of Georgia College of Education researcher Rachel Salyer aims to answer with a study she is launching this spring. With CHAMPS (Couples Healthfully Aging as Moving Partners Study), Salyer will explore how couples navigate and maintain physical activity and exercise over a 10-week period. Romantically linked couples age 60 to 75 are invited to take part.

"With any individual, it's important to have that social support, especially to remain physically active. And research does show that spouses or couples, if they have a significant other who is physically active, are more likely to be active as well," says Salyer, a doctoral student in the UGA College of Education's department of kinesiology. "So that's a lot of what spawned this project."

For the study, couples come to the Ramsey Student Center's Center for Physical Activity and Health twice a week for group exercises. The room is outfitted with exercise machines and equipment but is separate from the student-oriented workout areas. This allows participants to get to know each other and offers a social aspect to the strength-training workouts.

Participants also receive a Fitbit exercise tracker to encourage aerobic workouts outside of the classes. Their progress will be tracked for 10 weeks, followed by a check-in from Salyer three months after the program ends to determine how well they stuck with the exercise program.

While the structured workouts will help develop relationships among their peers, Salyer hopes the connection with their partner will help maintain the exercise after the classes stop.

"So we are going to turn them loose with, in theory, this partner who is supporting their physical activity and a Fitbit that is reminding them to stay physically active. Then we are checking in three months out and asking, 'Did that help you adhere to your exercise?'" said Sayler. "Even when they aren't in here with us, the idea is to give them tools so that physical activity and exercise is sustainable for them."

Participants also receive a two-month membership to the Center for Physical Activity and Health ($70 value) after completing the follow-up visits.

For Athens residents Sandy and Scott Clark, the daily exercise as part of the program gives them some structure to their day. While they don't work out together when they are not in class, they each hold an expectation that their partner will follow through with it each day.

"We're retired and I have a very busy schedule—today is a 12-hour day," said Sandy. "So this gives us a little bit of structure and we end up feeling better about ourselves because we can physically do things."

It's not about being dependent on each other, said Salyer and the Clarks, but rather building accountability among your friends and your partner.

"They have to keep each other accountable for that physical activity," said Salyer. "The hope is that by bringing in couples, when they leave and are no longer here, they can help each other stay accountable and help each other work out."

To take part in CHAMPS, call 706-542-4395 or fill out an online screening questionnaire.

Related links: Department of Kinesiology