Wednesday March 1, 2017

Gender and Health

By Jeff Kingery

Our society is dominated by gender norms- a set of expectations around how women and men should look, dress, and behave. Gender norms may even affect how women and men perceive their health and make decisions around what type of exercise to do.

The three main types of exercise are strength (weightlifting), stretching (yoga, flexibility exercises), and cardio activities (running, biking). Women generally approach exercise and physical health as a means to maintain a thin, fit physique, by running on treadmills or lunging on ellipticals, whereas men will focus on lifting weights to increase muscle mass. These norms are often played out in the types of exercise we choose to do.

Recently, the University of Dayton’s Campus Recreation conducted a survey asking members the perceived importance of strength, cardio, and flexibility activities. Among hundreds of undergraduate women surveyed, over 82% viewed strength activities, 79% viewed stretching activities, and 96% viewed cardio activities as either “important” or “very important” in one’s exercise routine.

However, when these undergraduate women were asked to report their recorded behaviors (what they actually did each week), the majority did more than the recommended amount of stretching activities and less strength activities than recommended. Slightly less than the majority of both undergraduate men and women performed the recommended percentage of their workout to cardio activities. Although these women are doing more cardio than men, it’s still not the recommended amount of cardio activities a person should complete each week. These exercise habits formed in college will likely transcend into later adulthood.

When we correctly balance the different exercise types, we put ourselves in the best position to look and feel good. Yet, when we become fixated on a particular type of exercise, it can become both physically and psychologically harmful. Not balancing each type of recommended exercise in our workouts can help perpetuate gender norms: that women want to maintain a thin physique, and therefore will do more cardio to achieve this while negating strength training and men focus on strength training to be bulkier with defined muscles rather than balancing with cardio and flexibility. Both women and men should be focusing on balancing all three types of exercises, not just emphasizing one. Balancing the types of exercise help women and men achieve healthier outcomes.

The professionals and students who work at UD Campus Recreation are here to help. They offer personal training, culturally inclusive women’s only group fitness classes, and other recreational opportunities designed to balance all three of these types of activities and durations, one step, one rep, one stretch at a time.

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