Some Haircuts for Black Women Deter Daily Exercise Routine | Natural Health Blog

Date: 01/08/2013    Written by: Beth Levine

Hairstyles Stop Some Women from Exercising

Haircuts for Black Women

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.
  • 2. "How much physical activity do adults need?" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1 December 2011. Accessed 31 December 2012.
  • 3. "Health." National Council of Negro Women. Accessed 31 December 2012.
  • 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.

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    Submitted by Janet on
    January 8, 2013 - 7:23pm

    If you sweat, you will have sweaty hair. What are you going to do about it? You have to have time and energy to wash it out. Some people sweat without doing much at all. It is a real problem for people and you can't judge them by what your situation is. Also, I used to avoid swimming because it takes so long to dry my very thick hair. It I let it go it wouldn't dry for 24 hrs.

    Submitted by Jan G on
    January 10, 2013 - 1:39pm

    I don't think the article is meant to judge specific people, but to express concern over the potentially negative effect of a priority certain women appear to express involving hair care, one choice of many that might prevent their enjoying better general fitness and health. If these kinds of articles were not published, a certain percentage of women might not acquire an awareness of these possible effects. Some might need that little "jog" to make choices for themselves that might benefit them. Then again, some women might avoid the gym but zealously attend clubs where they dance the night away oblivious to the sweat factor! (Granted, it certainly might be easy for a male to seem a bit judgmental since men in this culture are not pushed - and the social/peer pressure to "look good" is pushing of a very subtle sort - to maintain their hair in certain ways. The ways women prioritize their appearance might seem odd to a man.)

    Submitted by viola ford on
    August 21, 2013 - 8:55am

    Yes, this is a beneficial article intending to raise the awareness of the issue which may not have been taken seriously by us black females who take pride in looking good. I am 80 years young, worn a natural for the past 25 years and have liked it and not liked it but refuse to apply any more chemicals to this head ! I exercise, rebound and line dance,do weight training and am able to wash my hair as often as I like. There are some disadvantages here, don't get me wrong. I can exercise more because I found an old program called "Sanasession". It is a 4 minute program of effortless exercise poses for men and women utilizing scientific movement and timing to achieve a fit and beautiful body without hard exercising and soreness. It is designed for the busy person and can be done anywhere and at any time. They work! Also they do not mess with your hair!!!

    Submitted by asheyellen02 on
    April 10, 2016 - 11:34pm


    its a very nice share

    I exercise 5 days week and searching am article that I thought going to help me out..
    The problem isn't the hairstyle but what exertion actually does to the condition of the hair. I think this will help me in solving my problem ..
    thank you so much for this share ..

    keep up doing good work

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