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A behavioral data scientist reveals the gender gap

scan by Nuffield Healthier Nation Index It found that 8,000 adults – nearly 38% of women – had not exercised in the past year, rising to 48% for those aged 16-24. The number was lower for men. The NHS states on its website that a person between the ages of 19 and 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

So why does this gender gap exist?

There are many factors that contribute to a woman’s inability to exercise regularly.

While the media has covered these statistics about women’s lack of exercise, it fails to mention the other data from the Nuffield report which states that 40% of these women from the study group cited embarrassment as the main reason for not exercising (compared to 29% of men). We know from research that women tend to feel dissatisfied with their bodies. This preoccupation with body idealism is greater in teens and young adults, mainly due to the influence of social media. A meta-analysis of 20 research papers showed that negative body image is closely related to scrolling through social media, especially Instagram.

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Women in particular have negatively compared their bodies to those of celebrities and peers. Across several research studies over the years, we have seen that those teens and adults with a lower body image are less likely to engage in physical activity when compared to those with a higher body image. Even those women who are active and athletic often struggle with the paradox of looking strong and toned but still want the perfect body image.

Dr. Pragya Agarwal

Dr. Pragya Agarwal explores the complex social and emotional barriers women face to exercising regularly

Simon Songhurst

There is also a strong relationship between sportswear and gym design (as well as swimwear) and body image. Modest sportswear It is still hard to find. When clothes do not fit a person properly, and cover most of their bodies, many women can realize that the reason is their body flaw and not the clothes. This can then manifest in the form of negative feelings about their bodies, which can prevent them from being motivated to exercise.

While in the last year we have started to see more companies designing and promoting sportswear for various bodies, many of these brands are very pricey and only hit size 18 which does not include the size. Classifying these sizes as "plus" can reinforce the stigma that accompanies larger body size than ideal.

“Mothers spent 1 hour and 5 minutes in active childcare while fathers averaged 25 minutes.”

Gyms and swimming pools can also be intimidating places – I know this from experience. I find it hard to go to these places as a relative and novice, someone who is completely unfit and can’t hit the treadmill or do endless miles in the pool. unless You have the right clothes, and fit body, it is very easy to feel like an outsider. And this lack of inclusion—in sportswear design, the culture that has developed in some gyms and swimming pools—can lead not only to embarrassment but also to a lack of motivation to go to the gym, run, or swimming.

A woman learning to dance moves in the classroom

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Then there is road running which is always free and available to everyone. Well, approx. A 2021 Runner’s World survey of more than 2,000 women found that 60 percent of women had experienced harassment while running. Among these women, nearly 25% also reported that they were regularly exposed to sexist comments or unwanted sexual attempts while running alone. And 6% said they even feared for their lives. 37% of women shortened their running to the specified daylight hours, and 11% stopped running altogether. Many stop running regularly. Four out of five women have had I found it unsafe to go out after dark on your own for a walk or run.

Some may wonder why women don’t use daylight hours. That’s because women tend to bear a lot of the emotional and physical burden of parenthood in a marriage or heterosexual partnership. Data from the National Center for Social Research collected using time use diaries for fathers and mothers with children under 16, found that mothers spent an average of about 2 hours and 21 minutes cooking, cleaning and other household chores while for men that figure was about Only 57 minutes. Mothers spent 1 hour and 5 minutes in active childcare while fathers averaged 25 minutes per day.

This unequal, unpaid work has increased in particular over the past two years under the pandemic. A study conducted by the University of London’s Institute of Education (IOE) and the Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2020, showed data from 3,500 families with heterosexual parents, and found that mothers looked after children during an average of 10.3 hours of the day (2.3 hours more than fathers). Women also did 1.7 hours more household chores than fathers. So where on earth have the time to exercise?

"It is becoming more difficult for women to engage in any rigorous physical activity"

Most of the women who responded to my tweet about it said that looking after the kids, running after them, and lugging cleaning gear around is stressful work, there’s no energy, and they don’t have any time left to think about joining the gym or going out for a run. . Moreover, the only time they reach themselves is after the kids have gone to bed (i.e. they look like my baby and don’t sleep before 9pm!) when it’s too late and unsafe to run or too physically and mentally exhausted to think of any physical activity

Healthy woman doing yoga at home

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If we look at just the past year, another factor that played a role in restricting women’s physical activity is the effects of Covid. Research has indicated that women are much more likely than men to experience prolonged Covid. From 1.3 million people across more than 600,000 research articles published between June 2020 and 2021, it was observed that for prolonged Covid-19, women were more likely to have the condition, with an OR of 1.22 (95% confidence interval, 0.75 to 0.93). 22% more men showed a variety of symptoms including fatigue symptoms which were observed to be less common in men.

While this is the case, as I discuss in my next book hystericalGender bias still exists in our health field, so women’s pain and condition are often overlooked and ignored with women being described as hysterical and extremely sensitive. This has also caused some of these symptoms to persist for weeks and months. With the prolonged Covid disease, it has become difficult for women to participate in any rigorous physical activity.

Black mother doing yoga with a baby in the living room

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So, yes, exercise is important and both men and women should be encouraged to do as much physical activity as possible. But rather than using this report as another stick to beating women up, attributing all their mental and physical problems to a lack of adequate exercise, a more nuanced discussion is needed that examines the barriers to exercise. Lack of resources, time and energy seem to be the main factors. Once we start to have a more cross-cutting, inclusive, and honest conversation about how women can take up some form of exercise even when they think—and have been told—that they’re not an athlete or think they’re unlikely to be good at it, we can make more women They engage in sports (and men do, too). It is never too late to start.

"There is a need for a more nuanced discussion examining barriers to exercise"

Some of us have been brought up to believe that we are not athletic and thus have moved away from any kind of sport or physical activity as we got older. I recently started tennis lessons, got rid of some of my embarrassment about starting a sport I might not be good at, and Wear active sportswear I don’t feel comfortable in it. Besides these hurdles, and the fact that I don’t have time to do this regularly, it has been nice to take these tennis lessons once in a while. They gave me the belief that we can all be athletes and do most sports at any age we like.

Dr. Pragya Agarwal is an author, behavioral data scientist, and her next book Hysterical: Exploding the Myth of Gender Emotions Available September 1 with Canongate and available for pre-order.


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