Men and women who see themselves as equal partners in a relationship are more likely to participate in frequent recreational exercise compared with those in less egalitarian unions, a study in PLOS One suggests.

Greater gender equality was associated with increased physical activity in both sexes, the research showed. Interestingly, women appeared to benefit more exercise-wise from gender equality than men, researchers said.

Gender-equal relationships may foster greater cooperation and provide each partner with more choice and freedom, including to do exercise, the researchers suggested. Previous studies have found marriage cuts into men’s exercise time to a greater degree than for women, even though married men spend more time on physical activity than women, the study said.

Researchers in the U.K. and Sweden analyzed data on 772 people who were married or living with a partner. The subjects were enrolled in a larger study at age 16 and completed questionnaires at regular intervals until 2007, when they were 42 years old.

At age 21 and again at age 42, the subjects were asked how often in the previous 12 months they had exercised or participated in sports. At age 42, subjects rated the perceived level of gender equality in their relationships.

Of the subjects, 42.7% of men and 36.7% of women rated their relationship as “totally gender-equal.” Men reported exercising more often at age 21 than 42, which wasn’t unexpected, the researchers said. But contrary to their expectations, it was women who engaged in more frequent physical activity at age 42: 11.3% exercised every day compared with 6.5% of men.

People in relationships they regarded as totally gender-equal were two to three times as likely to engage in daily exercise as those in unions perceived as low in equality, according to the adjusted results, which considered the number of children living at home and working overtime.

Caveat: Physical activity was self-reported and the duration, intensity and the type of exercise weren’t known.

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