Social ties and physical activity patterns over the life course : gender, race, and age variations

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In this dissertation I explore the lived experiences and meanings underlying population patterns linking social ties and exercise. To do so, I frame an analysis of qualitative data from 60 in-depth interviews with 15 white women, 15 black women, 15 white men, and 15 black men with life course theory and critical perspectives on gender, race, and age. In Article 1, I examine how parental influence matters for individuals’ exercise trajectories (i.e., lived experiences of change or stability in exercise patterns) from childhood into adulthood, how adult life course transitions (e.g., parenthood) and turning points (e.g., injury) matter in relation to this influence for exercise trajectories, and how they matter differently at the intersection of race and gender. I develop the concepts of disrupted advantage and disadvantage to refer to my key finding that adult life experiences can disrupt processes of cumulative (dis)advantage around exercise in ways that differ at the intersection of race and gender. In Article 2, I examine the gendered processes through which intimate relationship formation and dissolution result in shifts in exercise habits and find that relationship formation shapes men’s and women’s exercise habits in distinctive ways. Further, these gendered processes are shaped by men’s and women’s relational gendered performances, which reveal the importance of a gender-as-relational perspective for understanding the links between relationship formation and gendered changes in exercise habits. Finally, in Article 3 I examine how body image, as socially constituted, shapes individuals’ motivation to exercise in ways that differ by gender, age, and race. I further examine how, through exercise intentions and practices, individuals craft meanings about the body, gender, race, and age.