There has been huge progress made in the areas of health and wellbeing, as the culture of health and fitness has evolved. With the awareness building around different health disorders for women such as Endometriosis, the impact of Menstrual cycle on training, anxiety and RED-S, it Is important for us to also build awareness around how these things can be supported within the fitness industry, to protect, support and enhance women’s mental and physical health. There are many things that we can do to improve the approach of Women’s Health and unfortunately it is not possible to cover everything that each individual may need to consider in a blog post. But we are hoping that if you are a woman, wanting to exercise, wanting to be healthy, wanting to understand your body and cycle and/or wanting to manage anxiety or depressive symptoms that this blog will be able to begin to guide the steps you may want to take.
Some of the common barriers being faced by women within their health include –
- Lack of health literacy – Unaware of health conditions and the reasons we can be experiencing the symptoms we are
- Confusion and Misinformation – Not given appropriate, individualised advice and being unsure of where to find appropriate information.
- A lack of “holistic” approaches to health – Approaching each construct in relationship to another. When you are at the gym, you are told you are there to work hard and push yourself and achieve results. This is often without consideration of how you may be feeling that day, other life stresses occurring, your physical health or diet and fuelling. 1 in 3 women have anxiety symptoms. This is something that needs to be considered more in the health and fitness space.
- And lastly, probably the largest barrier, Affordability – for many of the thing’s women face, a multi-disciplinary team is required. Dietitians, Psychologists, Exercise professionals, Gynaecologists. Many of us can simply not afford all of these supports.
Anecdotally, we would say that 80% of the women that we speak too have gone down a path similar to the following throughout their lives:
- Gone through puberty, experienced irregular period, pain, or acne. Gone to the GP, been put on the pill
- Stayed on the pill for a number of years without having been explained too not only what the side effects are and what the pill does to our body but more importantly what our periods function actually is and what is happening to our body in each stage of our cycle
- Been exposed to some form of societal standard of health and began some form of restriction/consciousness around our health, with the complete intention and belief that we are doing GOOD for our health (89% of girls have dieted by the age of 17)
- Seen space or need for more training, more healthy food “swaps”
- Over a number of years, participated in the slippery slope of training more and eating less, till eventually we experience the symptoms indicating we are doing too much. You may have low energy, be highly self-critical, experience anxiety, dysfunctional emotional regulation (tired, irritable), feel isolated etc.
80% of women aged 17 to 50 report fears around “becoming overweight”, one-third perceived a BMI of less than 18 (underweight) to be the ideal female body size and 70% expressed a desire to be thinner. We are taught to believe that if we haven’t achieved this, there is something wrong with us. That we aren’t being disciplined enough, eating well enough, training enough.
So, if this sounds familiar to you, what can we do?
- Ask “Why?” to yourself and others more often – Reflect on why you are needing something. Most importantly, what emotional need are you trying to meet? Why do you have to train tonight? Why should you not have rice with dinner? Challenge what other options may be available. If the GP is prescribing the pill, ask why that is best for you at this time and if there are other alternatives. Ask why in order to learn more about yourself and what is best for you in that moment.
- Don’t always “listen to your body” - If you have been on a path of training lots and eating less for a while, our bodies will have adapted to that. Our bodies can lose the ability to give us hunger cues if it has been working off minimal energy for a period of time. We may invalidate how we are feeling in an attempt to “be more positive”. These things can after a while impact how strongly our body can give us warning signs or cues to change our behaviour. Sometimes we have to fight what our body is telling us instead.
- Talk to someone about your Cycle - Taking the time to not only educate yourself on the menstrual cycle but talk to someone about how these things impact YOU individually is incredibly important for your mental and physical health. Our cycle impacts our mood, recovery, temperature regulation, bone density and so much more therefore, it is important to understand how these things present for you
- Consider the impact that your mental health could be having on your training - Between the gym environment, the clothes required for exercise and more, many things will affect anxiety and motivation to train. These culture and environment influences can impact our adherence to an exercise program (70% of women report withdrawing from activities due to their body image or gym environments). Understanding your potential triggers and finding an environment that supports and does not escalate your mental health symptoms is very important. Find the place, people, person, type etc of exercise that will have you leaving the gym feeling how you want to feel after your workout.
- Rest - Take your rest as seriously as your day-to-day tasks. If you are training a lot, stressed or have a large mental load with things happening in your life, support it as much as you can. Sleep more, eat more, rest more.
- Potentially reassess your goals - Goals are important, but it is important that your goals don’t come at the expense of your overall wellbeing. Reflect on what you are hoping to gain by doing another session. If you are wanting to lose weight, is now the best time physically or mentally to be doing so. What in your life would be different if we could do 50kg bench instead of 40kg and why is that important to you? Understand the emotional drive behind what you are doing.
If you are still unsure of where to start or would like more information, please contact Emma from Mind Over Body – firstname.lastname@example.org