Major Life Events May Reduce Physical Activity Levels

Major life events or transitions may reduce physical activity levels and, therefore, may worsen cardiovascular health, according to the American Heart Association’s latest scientific statement.1

The researchers examined which life events or transitions resulted in a decrease of physical activity, as well as which populations were most at-risk of increased sedentary behaviors and the factors that contributed to lower physical activity levels in individuals of different ages.

Of the 17 total life events or transitions examined, 9 were associated with decreased physical activity levels: beginning a new school (elementary, middle, high school, or college), a first job or career change, a marriage or civil union, pregnancy, parenting, retirement, or moving into a long-term care facility.

Individuals with lower levels of education, individuals who lived alone during the initial COVID-19 shutdown, individuals without safe access to outdoor space, and women during pregnancy and parenthood were among the populations most at-risk for significantly lower physical activity levels during these life events. 

Among individuals younger than age 18 years, factors that may impact physical activity at the individual level include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Motor coordination
  • Time outside
  • Physical activity preferences
  • Body image
  • Perceived barriers
  • Involvement in school sports
  • Physical education


Among individuals aged 18 years or older, factors that may impact physical activity at the individual level include:

  • Perceived health benefits of exercise
  • History and intention to exercise
  • Self-efficacy and confidence to achieve goals
  • Enjoyment
  • Lower stress levels


“It’s important to maintain or improve physical activity when major life events happen, which is often a time when exercise is most needed,” said statement author Abbi D. Lane-Cordova, PhD, in a press release.2 “There are so many ways people can do this. They could plan family activities that involve exercise, use free videos or websites to exercise at home or take standing breaks while at work. The most important things are to be aware of the positive health and cardiovascular impact of physical activity and make the effort to get moving.”


—Leigh Precopio


  1. Lane-Cordova AD, Jerome GJ, Paluch AE, et al. Supporting physical activity in patients and populations during life events and transitions: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. Published online December 1, 2021.
  2. Major life events influence level of physical activity, may negatively impact heart health. News release. American Heart Association; December 1, 2021. Accessed December 1, 2021.