Regular physical activity is vital for good physical and mental health. It helps improve your overall health and fitness, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk for many chronic diseases and promote good mental health.
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days is required for good health. This is the same for women and men. However, only 54 per cent of Australian women meet these guidelines.
Some of the barriers to physical exercise that women face include family responsibilities, body image and perceptions of safety.
Why women do physical activity
Women who do exercise regularly say they do so to:
- improve their physical fitness
- have fun
- manage their weight
- have some time just ‘for them’.
Barriers to physical activity for women
Common exercise barriers for women include:
- lack of time
- lack of motivation
- parenting demands
- lack of energy
- health conditions
- lack of money
- gender stereotyping.
Tips for women to overcome barriers to exercise
Lack of timeMany women juggle child-rearing, household duties and paid work, and don’t find time for themselves. Try to exercise whenever you have the chance. Three 10-minute bouts of physical activity over the day have the same health benefits as a continuous 30-minute session. Exercise DVDs are a good way to slot some physical activity into a busy day. Also building in activity with your children, such as walking to the shops or playing in the park is a great way to stay active.
Lack of motivationSome women say they don’t feel motivated without a training partner. Others think that, to be useful, exercise must be painful, sweaty and gruelling (which isn’t true). If you feel this way, find a training partner. You could also contact your local council or community centre for information on exercise clubs in your area. For example, you could join a local walking group. Don’t just think of gyms and jogging. You might find dancing or roller-skating fun, or look up VicHealth’s TeamUp app to find others who share similar activity interests.
Parenting demandsMany women fulfil multiple care-giving responsibilities, for example for children and older relatives, and take responsibility for meal preparation and cleaning. Try to share child rearing and household chores with your partner or friends. Perhaps your family can help, or maybe paid childcare is an option. Ask friends if they are interested in swapping babysitting. Include physical activity in your caring, it’s important for young and old.
Lack of energyFatigue is a by-product of a busy lifestyle. Mothers are often tired. Regular exercise gives you the energy to better cope with the demands of daily life. If you keep this in mind, it may help you push past the tiredness during your first few of weeks of regular exercise.
Health problemsOlder women are more likely to have a chronic health condition (for example, arthritis) that limits their participation in some forms of exercise. Talk to your doctor about appropriate forms of exercise. In most cases, physical limitations don’t rule out all activities. For example, exercise in water (such as aquarobics) is an enjoyable option for many people with arthritis.
Lack of moneyDespite its frumpy image, this diet staple packs 14 grams of protein per half-cup serving, along with 75 milligrams of calcium and 5 grams of carbohydrates. That protein is crucial to healing the microscopic muscle tears that occur during exercise, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, R.D., health education manager at Cleveland’s Fairview Hospital.
Gender stereotypingWomen who believe that child rearing and domestic chores are ‘women’s work’ are less likely to take time to exercise – perhaps because they feel guilty taking time out for themselves. If you feel this way, think about your beliefs around women’s roles. It may be that sexism is one of your barriers. The most important way to look after others is to look after yourself first.
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Making changes to adopt a physical activity routine
If you have a medical condition, are overweight, over 40 years of age or haven’t exercised regularly for a long time, see your doctor for medical advice before increasing your physical activity levels.
Pre-exercise screening is used to identify people with medical conditions that may put them at a higher risk of experiencing a health problem during physical activity. It is a filter or ‘safety net’ to help decide if the potential benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for you.
Regular exercise is more likely if you plan ahead. Suggestions include:
- Identify your barriers, such as lack of money or motivation. Think about a range of possible solutions.
- Consider the personal beliefs that may be holding you back, such as guilt about taking time out. Challenge those beliefs. Help your family realise your needs are as important as theirs.
- Find a support group – perhaps your partner, extended family, friends or paid childcare.
- Find something you like to do. You’re more likely to stick with it if you choose an activity you enjoy than if you do it because it’s ‘good for you’.
- Look through your diary for the week and make exercise ‘appointments’ with yourself.
- Set achievable goals. Don’t fall victim to the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. If you can only find the time for one or two exercise sessions per week at the moment, congratulate yourself on this achievement. Every little bit helps and some exercise is significantly better than no exercise at all.
Physical activity through incidental exercise
A few minor changes to your daily lifestyle can also increase your physical activity level. Suggestions include:
- For short trips, walk instead of taking the car.
- Play actively with your children.
- Listen to your favourite music or the radio and dance around the house.
- Do things yourself instead of using labour-saving machines.
- Get the whole family active on the weekends. The range of free activities is only limited by your imagination but could include bushwalking, cycling around the neighbourhood, swimming at the beach or playing backyard cricket.
It is never too late to take up exercise
Don’t think you’ve left it too late to start. Studies show that older people can achieve significant health benefits after just two to three months of regular exercise. As an added bonus, if you start being regularly active, your body will continue to benefit from exercise well into your 80s.