The charity Mind says that lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem causes nine in ten women aged over 30 to avoid taking part in outdoor physical exercise such as cycling, and has launched a campaign to encourage females to overcome barriers that are potentially harmful to both their spiritual and mental wellbeing.
The study, based on a survey of 1,450 women, was carried out as part of the 'Feel better outside, feel better inside' campaign from the £7.5 million Ecomind initiative, run by the mental health charity on behalf of the Big Lottery Fund.
While initiatives such as the Cycletta series of sportives, endorsed by Victoria Pendleton, and British Cycling’s £1 million National Women’s Cycling Network, launched last year, both aim to get more females on two wheels, the findings of Mind’s research suggest that for the vast majority of women there are huge barriers to doing any kind of outdoor physical activity, let alone cycling.
According to the survey, nearly all respondents – 98 per cent – were aware of messages telling them that getting involved in exercise would help their mental and physical health, however Mind said that low confidence in their bodies, low self-esteem and other barriers to exercise prevented many from getting active.
Its research found that eating comfort food or finding a way to be alone, both at 71 per cent, going to bed, at 66 per cent, or spending time social networking with a response level of 57 per cent, all ranked higher than taking part in physical exercise.
The charity highlighted some of the specific barriers that prevented women from taking part in exercise:
It also highlighted some of the ways in which women who did participate in exercise sought to overcome what it described as “the risk of embarrassment”:
Beth Murphy, head of information at Mind, commented: “We all know that walking, cycling, even gardening are good for our mental health, however for many of us exercising in the great outdoors can be incredibly daunting, especially if already feeling low and self-confidence is at rock bottom.
“At these times you can feel like the only person in the world experiencing this, but Mind’s research highlights that far from being alone, 90% of women are in exactly the same boat,” she continued.
“It’s time we start talking about how exercise makes us feel. We urge women to take the first step, invite a friend on a nature date and begin to support each other in taking care of our mental wellbeing.”
Mind cited the positive impact that taking up outdoor exercise had brought to the life of one 37-year-old woman, who said: “I have been taking anti-depressants since last February, but honestly feel that exercise has a more noticeable effect than the drugs.
“I can’t believe I am saying this, but discovering outdoor exercise changed everything. I was petrified, I knew I would sweat, go red, have trouble keeping up and that everyone else in the group would be super fit. I was so incredibly scared and thought I’d be humiliated.
“However – the other people in the group were all normal – all different shapes and sizes – and no one cared what you looked like or did.
It was the most liberating experience ever. My initial reason for exercising was to lose some weight, but from that first session I realised just how good it cold be for my state of mind. From there my confidence grew,” she concluded.
The Ecominds section of the Mind website contains a variety of hints, tips and online tools aimed at encouraging women to become active by helping the overcome some of the issues discouraging them from taking part in outdoor exercise.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.