Study Shows Some Black Women Don’t Exercise Because of Their Hair

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Hair > gym. Photo: Corbis

A new study published this week in the Archives of Dermatology found that two out of five African-American women avoid exercising because they're worried about their hair. Dr. Amy McMichael, the study's senior researcher and a dermatologist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, based the study on her own experiences: "As an African-American woman, I have that problem, and my friends have that problem. So I wondered if my patients had that problem," she told Reuters Health.

Here's how the study worked: McMichael and her colleagues surveyed 103 African-American women who visited the dermatology clinic at Wake Forest University in October 2007. They found that 50 percent of their subjects reported exercising less than 75 minutes a week, and more than 25 percent said they didn't exercise at all. These numbers are well below the national average reported by a 2007 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that about half of all American women exercise close to 150 minutes per week. When McMichael asked her subjects if hair played a role in their workout habits, about a third said they exercised less than they'd like to because of their hair, and half said they'd thought about changing their hair to make exercise more convenient.

This topic certainly bears further research, but McMichael suggests that the amount of time and money some African-American women traditionally invest in frequent salon visits may deter them from sweaty physical activities that could ruin their hair treatments.

While the unique characteristics of African-American hair shouldn't be shrugged off here, it's also true that many non-black women forgo exercise for hair-related reasons. A quick poll of Cut staffers shows that, regardless of ethnicity, we have all skipped workouts to prolong good hair days. (Responses include: "I have definitely avoided exercising because of my hair," and, "I skip the gym when my hair looks nice so that I don't have to redo it.") Moral of the story: We all know we should care less about our hair and more about exercise, but it's easier said than done.