Say you’ve just ironed your hair sleek or are sporting a fresh, bouncy blowout. Do you skip working out afterward?
That’s all too common the case, claims U.S. Surgeon General, Regina M. Benjamin, M.D. Speaking at the recent Bronner Bros. International Hair Show in Atlanta, Benjamin used her bully pulpit to take on the “excuse” many women have of prioritizing a smooth hairstyle over breaking a sweat in a heart-healthy workout.
In particular, Benjamin says the trend is especially prevalent among minority women. Citing a study from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in which 103 African American women in the surrounding North Carolina region were polled, a third listed hairstyle maintenance as the number one reason they wouldn’t exercise.
“Many African American women with coarser hair use either heat straighteners or chemical products to straighten their hair,” says dermatologist Amy J. McMichael, M.D., the physician who led the study. “Depending on how coarse or fragile their hair is, they can’t just wash their hair after exercise without having to go through the whole process again, and that can take hours.”
The study goes on to state that 77 percent of African American women in the U.S. can be classified as either overweight or obese. Meanwhile, the surgeon general recommends 150 minutes per week (about 20 minutes per day) of moderate to intense physical exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, 31.6 percent of African American women do not get any physical activity in a given month.
Benjamin says she aims to get more women moving by eliminating hair as an acceptable reason to not work out. That could lower obesity rates and weight-associated health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes.
However, the surgeon general acknowledges that it’s not difficult to understand why there’s such a fuss about hair and workouts among women in the first place.
“If you go out and spend $40 to $50 to get your hair done, you don’t want to go out and get it all sweaty and wet that afternoon before you got to show if off,” Benjamin told CNN. “Other ethnic groups would come up and say the same thing. I don’t think it’s limited to African American women.”
While Benjamin says her solution is to work out at night so that she is home and done for the day when she’s finished, other active and fit women who have careers that demand high maintenance hair needs have learned how to strike the balance between feeling good and looking good.