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Have you ever felt like you spend so much time taking care of others that you forget to prioritize yourself? Well, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, a study from Australian National University suggests that women are more likely to sacrifice their workout time when their jobs and families need attention, whereas men might be “borrowing” the time that women sacrifice to squeeze their own workouts in.
The study looked at data from heterosexual couples aged 25-64 in more than 7,000 households to find out how men and women share time. As it turned out, men reported having more flexibility in their work schedules versus women, whose more rigid schedules cut into what would be free time to spend getting active.
“Even when a man in a couple increases the hours they work, they are able to preserve time to exercise, but when a woman works more, she gives up her time to exercise,” Lyndall Strazdins, PhD, study author and ANU professor, said in a release. “This suggests men are borrowing their time from the women in their lives.”
In all, 34 percent of the men reported being physically active, which was defined as doing three or more moderately intense bouts of exercise lasting more than 30 minutes per week. Only 28.6 percent of women reported exercising regularly.
But here’s the interesting part: When women’s family commitments or paid work hours increased, their physical activity lessened. If their work week increased by 10 hours, just 22.6 percent reported that they would likely be physically active. Men, on the other hand, mostly reported that they would still find working out feasible with 10 additional work hours. Overall, 32 percent said they could still find time to work out, and they reported that their work hours were flexible, whereas women found their work hours rigid.
“This is one of the first studies to show how, hour for hour, women’s time for their health is being squeezed to manage their jobs and the family, whereas men’s time for jobs and health is more protected,” Strazdins said.
Considering people overall don’t get enough exercise consistently, the study’s findings make it clear that it isn’t always easy for someone to set themselves as the top priority. Triathlon, in particular, has seen a stark gap in male and female rates of participation. Though some have tried to explain away this gap with assumptions such as “women don’t enjoy sports” or “women don’t like to get their hair wet,” this study echoes what women have been saying for years: their biggest barrier to participation is time.
“Men having more time for exercise and more flexibility in their work time is playing out in women’s bodies,” Strazdins said. “Women are giving their health and well-being to their male partners.”
In the long run, the study authors emphasized that this needs to change for everyone’s best health and wellness interests.
“There is currently a global exercise drought, and this is pushing huge disease burdens from the cardiovascular to the cognitive,” she said. “We need to cap work hours on the job, and even the sharing of care hours in the home, for men and women to both have enough time for staying healthy.”