Hairstyles Stop Some Women from Exercising
Back in the 1950s, it was considered a perfectly valid excuse to turn down a date by saying, "I have to wash my hair tonight." The beehives, finger waves, and other intricate hairdos of the times involved a lot of setting, bobby pins, and comb work to style them precisely and get them to stay in place for days. Now, with today's low maintenance, casual styles, that would hardly seem to be a problem. Guess again! It seems that the post-millennium version of staying at home to "do" your hair is abandoning exercise to avoid messing up today's casual looking, yet equally high-maintenance hairstyles.
Recent research, conducted at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, found that a large proportion of African-American women in particular admit to not working out because they fear it will ruin the effects of their expensive hair treatments.1 The problem stems from the popularity of pin-straight styles that take a lot of work to achieve for women with naturally coarse or curly hair. Even with tons of various products at a woman's disposal, it is very difficult to blow dry hair into submission. Most women with coarse curls need either a pricey straightening process every few months or weekly blow-outs to maintain straight locks. Once they work up a good sweat, either the hair starts to frizz and lose its style, or they have to wash their hair in the shower and then are unable to recapture that sleek, straight look.
The study participants were 103 adult African-American women, varying in age between 21 and 60. The average age of these volunteers was 42.3 years old. Each of them responded to a questionnaire focusing on their exercise habits, including the types of workouts, their frequency, and their duration. They also answered questions regarding what they typically spend on hair maintenance and what hair problems result from exercising.
The volunteers reported an average of just 75 minutes of exercise per week, which basically works out to about 10 minutes a day. This is considerably lower than what is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is a minimum of 150 minutes a week of aerobic activity and at least two sessions of strength training,2 The bottom line is that 75 minutes a week is simply not enough to have any meaningful effect on the body. Even worse, more than one-quarter of the women involved in the study admitted to doing no exercise whatsoever.
While 50 percent of the women said they had tried wearing their hair differently in order to be able to work out, others just gave up. A full 40 percent of the subjects were steering clear of exercise more often than not to preserve their hairdos. Approximately 33 percent responded that they would like to be working out more consistently, but did not because of hairstyle issues.
So, what is a woman to do? Saying "to heck" with your appearance is obviously not an option for many women. Yet giving up on exercise is clearly not the way to go either. While this study only takes into account a very small population sample, it would seem that hairstyle is one of the reasons many African-American women are not overall as healthy as other groups. African-American women have the highest risk of any group in the United States of being overweight or obese, which in turn leads to an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and more.3
It is essential for every person to make exercise a part of their daily routine. And it all doesn't have to be of the sweat dripping from every pore variety, either. There is plenty to be gained from less intense bursts of cardiovascular exercise. A 2008 study at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that even doing 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity physical activity such as brisk walking can lower the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.4 In addition, not all workouts should be cardio-oriented. It is just as valuable to the body to work on strength training, flexibility, and resistance. So, with a little creativity, it just might be possible for even those women with the most high-maintenance types of hair to get back on the workout track and get healthy…or at least healthier.
- 1. Castillo, Michelle. "Hair deters many African-American women from exercising." CBS News. 18 December 2012. Accessed 30 December 2012. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57559822/hair-deters-many-african-americ
- 2. "How much physical activity do adults need?" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 December 2011. Accessed 31 December 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html
- 3. "Health." National Council of Negro Women. Accessed 31 December 2012. http://www.ncnw.org/resources/health.htm
- 4. van Dam, Rob M., et al. "Combined impact of lifestyle factors on mortality: prospective cohort study in US women." BMJ. 16 September 2008. Accessed 31 December 2012. http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a1440