A behavioral knowledge scientist sheds gentle on the ‘gender efficiency hole’

A survey of Nuffield Healthier National Index found that 8,000 adults – nearly 38% of women – did not exercise in the last year, rising to 48% for 16-24 year olds. This number is lower for men. The NHS on their website states that a person aged 19-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.

So why is there this gender gap?

There are many factors that lead to women not being able to exercise regularly.

While the media reported on this statistic about women’s lack of exercise, they didn’t mention other data from this Nuffield report stating that 40% of these women from the research team gave that shame is the main reason for not exercising (compare 29% of men). Through research, we know that women tend to be more dissatisfied with their bodies. This preoccupation with an ideal body image is greatest among adolescents and young adults, mainly due to the influence of social media. A meta-analysis of 20 research articles has shown that negative body image is strongly associated with scrolling through social media, especially Instagram.

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Women in particular have negatively compared their bodies to those of celebrities and peers. Over several years of research, we have found that shorter adolescents and adults are less likely to engage in physical activity than taller adults. Even women who exercise and sport often face the contradiction of looking strong and toned but still want to achieve the ideal image.

dr pragya agarwal

Dr. Pragya Agarwal explores the complex social and emotional barriers women face to regular exercise

Simon Songhurst

There is also a strong correlation between the design of sports and exercise wear (as well as swimwear) and body image. Modest active outfit still a challenge to find. When clothes don’t fit, covering most of the body, many women may assume that the problem is their own body, not the clothes. This can then manifest in the form of negative feelings about their body, which can leave them unmotivated to exercise.

While last year we started to see more companies designing and promoting activewear for diverse bodies, many of these brands are expensive and only come in size 18, sizing not included. Labeling these sizes as ‘plus’ sizes can also reinforce the stigma that comes with being larger than the ideal body size.

“Mothers spend 1 hour and 5 minutes in intensive care while fathers spend an average of 25 minutes”

Gyms and pools can also be scary places – I know from experience. I find it difficult going to these places as a beginner and a beginner, someone who is not fit and can’t hit the treadmill or run countless miles in the pool. Unless you have the right clothes, and fit body, it’s easy to feel like an outsider. And this lack of inclusion – in activewear design, and the culture that has developed in some gyms and pools – can lead to not only embarrassment but also a lack of motivation to get to the room. exercise, jog or swimming.

woman learning dance steps in class

Luis Alvarezbeautiful pictures

Then there’s running on roads that are always free and open to everyone. Well, almost. A 2021 Runner’s World survey of more than 2000 women found that 60% of women have been harassed while running. Of these women, nearly 25% also said they were regularly subjected to sexist comments or unwanted advances about sex while in their own status. And, 6% said they even fear for their lives. 37% of women restricted running to specific daylight hours and 11% stopped running altogether. Many people have stopped running regularly. Four out of five women have feel unsafe to go out after dark alone to walk or run.

Some people may ask why women don’t use daylight hours. That’s because women tend to carry many of the emotional and physical burdens of parenting in a marriage or partnership of the opposite sex. Data from the National Center for Social Research, collected using time usage diaries of parents with children under the age of 16, shows that mothers spend an average of 2 hours and 21 minutes on cooking, cleaning and other household chores while for men. the number is only about 57 minutes. Mothers spend 1 hour and 5 minutes on active childcare while fathers spend an average of 25 minutes per day.

This unequal unpaid labor has become particularly high in the past two years during the pandemic. A study by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) and the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2020, collected data from 3,500 families with heterosexual parents and found that mothers care for their children. on average 10.3 hours a day (2.3 hours more than dad). Women also do 1.7 hours more housework than fathers. So where on earth do they have time to exercise?

“It becomes even more difficult for women to engage in any rigorous physical activity”

Most of the women who replied to my tweet about this said that babysitting, running after them, carrying cleaning equipment around is exhausting work and no energy, and no time left for them to weigh in. mention joining a gym or going out for a jog. Furthermore, the only time they can do it themselves is after the kids have gone to bed (they, like me, don’t go to bed before 9pm!) When it’s too late and unsafe to jog or them. too physically and mentally exhausted to consider any physical activity.

healthy woman doing yoga at home

JLC – Julia Amaralbeautiful pictures

If we only look at the last year, another factor that has played a role in limiting women’s physical activity is the impact of Covid. Research has suggested that women are significantly more likely to experience Covid than men. From 1.3 million people across more than 600,000 research articles published between June 2020 and 2021, it was found that in the long run of Covid, women are more likely to experience the condition, with odds ratio is 1.22 (95% confidence interval, 0.75 to 0.93). 22% more women than men with a variety of symptoms including fatigue symptoms that are less common in men.

While this is the case, as I discuss in my upcoming book Frenzy, gender bias persists in our health sector, so the pain and condition of women is often dismissed and ignored with so-called hypersensitive and hypersensitive women. . This also leads to some of these symptoms persisting for weeks and months. With Covid long on, it has become even more difficult for women to engage in any rigorous physical activity.

Black mother doing yoga with her baby boy in the living room

JGI / Jamie Grillbeautiful pictures

So yes, exercise is important and both men and women should be encouraged to be as physically active as possible. But instead of using this report as another stick to beat women, labeling all their physical and mental health problems as a lack of exercise, a more nuanced discussion is needed. to review barriers to exercise. Lack of resources, time and energy seem to be the key factors. Once we started having a more alternating, inclusive and honest conversation about how women can do some form of exercise even when they think – and have been told – that they can’t. sport or believe they can’t be good at it, we can get more women into exercise (and men too). It’s never too late to get started.

“A more nuanced discussion is needed to consider barriers to exercise”

Some of us grew up with the belief that we are not athletic and therefore stay away from any kind of sport or physical activity as we grow older. I recently started tennis lessons, taking some of the embarrassment out of starting a sport I might not be good at, and wear active sportswear that I don’t feel comfortable with. Apart from these stumbling blocks, and the fact that I don’t have time to do it often, it’s good to have these tennis lessons from time to time. They have given me confidence that we can all be athletic and participate in most sports of any age that we enjoy.

Pragya Agarwal is an author and behavioral data scientist and her follow-up book Hysterical: Legendary explosion of sexual feelings will launch September 1 with Canongate and is available for pre-order.


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