Why more than half of women in the UK are stopping exercise

Women exercise gap. (Getty Images)
Women aren't exercising as much as they want to be – and it's not because of body insecurities. (Getty Images)

Heard of the gender health gap? The gender pay gap? The orgasm gap? Well it seems you can add gender exercise gap to the list, highlighted by a new study.

As with everyone, the more women move, the better they feel – in fact women who exercise regularly are 52% happier, 50% more energised, 67% less stressed and 80% less frustrated than those who don't.

Yet, more than half (54.5%) of women in the UK are dropping out or stopping exercise completely and all women are experiencing barriers to exercise and the mental health benefits throughout their lifetime, the research commissioned by ASICS and led by renowned academics Dr Dee Dlugonski and Professor Brendon Stubbs finds.

Key barriers include time pressures (80%), low self-confidence (55%), cost of gyms (65%) and not feeling sporty enough (58%), while motherhood and gendered expectations are also shown to have an impact.

Compared to more global findings within the study of more than 24,000 people, 56% of UK women say they are unhappy with their exercise levels, placing them 22nd out of 26 countries in terms of satisfaction.

Cute little baby playing on the floor by her working mother.  Young mother with a baby and a dog, sitting on the floor and working. High angle of view.
Men's perceptions aren't matching up to the reality of why women face barriers to exercise. (Getty Images)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research has unearthed men's perceptions of the challenges women face are different to the reality. Only 34% of men recognised lack of time as a barrier to exercise, despite the vast number of UK women citing the issue.

Instead, men thought 'body insecurities' were the leading problem, with 58% attributing this as the main barrier. Of the top five barriers perceived by men, only one (costs) actually featured in the list of most common obstacles reported by women, highlighting the disparity within understanding the issue.

“Our study showed that the gender exercise gap is a complex challenge which did not develop overnight. Given it has no sole cause, it will not be solved with one single solution, but when asked what could help, women noted that making movement more accessible, inclusive and recognised in all forms, while challenging society’s gendered expectations, would support them in moving more," explains Dr Dee Dlugonski, Assistant Professor at Sports Medicine Research Institute, University of Kentucky.

“This includes making exercise centred around women and their needs. From providing childcare and catering for all activity levels, to fitting around work, being fun, affordable, safe, welcoming and judgement-free. All these solutions, while small, can have a significant impact and through this study we identified thousands of individuals and organisations around the world who are already driving change.”

Portrait of a senior woman walking in the park with friends
Women are taking matters into their own hands to improve accessibility of exercise. (Getty Images)

Looking to the UK, Karen Guttridge, 62, from Hampshire, felt like there were no exercise opportunities locally, so decided to set up her own running group 'Sole Sisters' for women over 45. She was overwhelmed by the response and interest, with it offering running programmes for all levels and a safe judgement-free space for women to connect and move their body.

Meanwhile, when struggling with depression and low confidence, Jess found running helped her find solace, feel some pride and mentally stronger. This led her to found Run Talk Run, a global community offering mental health support through accessible running and walking groups.

Cosima, previously intimidated by exercise due to the negative perceptions often portrayed by the media, now advocates for inclusivity and positively associates with movement, especially for girls. As a secondary school teacher, she educates both boys and girls on the physical and mental benefits of physical activity.

Ahead of International Women's day, ASICS is launching its Move Her Mind platform to help recognise the impact remarkable organisations and individuals like these are making to dismantle barriers for women in exercise in sport, inviting people to submit what they're doing to help women move, as well as sharing their own resources to help support and inspire women.

Read more: Why 6 x 20 minutes of exercise can be all you need to get your mojo back