Work, Family, and Exercise: Toward an Ecological Perspective

Grzywacz, Joseph, and Nadine Marks
Working paper no. 1998-25


Objectives: Rational decision models (i.e., value expectancy models) have dominated exercise research. Guided by ecological theory, this study proposed that contextual factors within the family and work microsystems, and the work-family mesosystem would be associated with participation in regular vigorous exercise habits.

Methods: Cross-sectional self-report data from a national sample of employed midlife adults (N=1,806) was used to assess the association between multiple dimensions of work characteristics, family solidarity, work-family spillover and vigorous exercise.

Results: Multivariate analyses, controlling for individual factors such as perceived control over health, confirmed that contextual factors were associated with regular vigorous exercise among women and men. Women’s exercise habits benefited from emotional closeness with their spouse and positive work to family spillover; they were undermined by negative spillover from work to family. Among men, more decision latitude at work and more positive spillover from family to work was associated with greater odds of vigorous exercise.

Conclusions: These results support an ecological perspective on physical activity habits. Contextual factors influence participation in proactive health behavior above and beyond individual factors.