01 August 2014

Hairstyle concerns keep women from exercising

Many African American women skip physical activity entirely to avoid having to have their hair restyled or restraightened.


Many black women put concerns about their hair above their health, according to new research.

It's estimated by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that four out of five black women in the United States are overweight or obese. Yet some of them skip physical activity entirely to avoid having to have their hair restyled or restraightened, the University of Colorado School of Medicine study authors said. However, the researchers also noted a shift toward more "low-maintenance" hairstyles, which might help more women overcome these barriers to exercise.

Read: One in four SA women obese

"There is some exciting news from this study," said co-principal investigator Dr. Amy Huebschmann, director of the university's Centre for Women's Health Research. "African-American women want to overcome these barriers to exercise, and we studied many African-American women who have already overcome these barriers by adjusting their hairstyles."

Exercisers vs. non-exercisers

The study involved 51 Denver women ranging from 18 to 75 years old. The women's health was assessed, and interviewers asked about any hairstyle-related barriers to exercise they faced. They also identified any factors that motivated the women to be active.

The researchers divided the group into two categories: "exercisers" and "non-exercisers". The "exercisers" engaged in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each week. The "non-exercisers" were active for less than 60 minutes. Both groups had similar rates of diabetes, prediabetes and arthritis.

Read: Moderate exercise key for heart health

Although lack of self-discipline or money were reported as barriers to exercise, issues with hairstyle maintenance was the most frequently reported obstacle to physical activity.

Hair a factor when it comes to exercise

Hairstyle concerns were the reason why 29 percent of black women did not exercise regularly. In contrast, only 7 percent of the black women who worked out routinely said their hair was a factor in their decision to exercise.

"We want to find solutions so women in the African-American community can get through these barriers and improve their health," said the study's co-principal investigator, Lucille Johnson Campbell, director of special initiatives for the Centre for African-American Health in Denver.

Read: How your diet can improve the health of your hair

To avoid spending an excessive amount of time or money to restyle their hair after a workout, some of the women involved in the study opted for more simple styles that require less upkeep, such as braids and ponytails.

Other chose to engage in "safe" activities that would not make them sweat, to avoid messing up their hair.

Hair concerns

"We had some women describe concerns of getting fired if they came to work with a low-maintenance hairstyle such as braids or natural hair, but we also heard women saying that they feel there is a growing cultural acceptance of these types of low-maintenance hairstyles," said Huebschmann in a university news release.

Read: Braids and weaves lead to balding

The study's findings were presented recently at the annual meetings of the Society of Behavioural Medicine and the Society of General Internal Medicine. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Read more:

Thinness associated with HIV/Aids
More black women die of breast cancer
Obesity: black women better off

Image: African American woman from Shutterstock

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