October 22, 2015

Health Minister Sussan Ley made headlines this week with her comments that women must stop “killing themselves” by putting themselves last. She said that more women neglected their health while working longer hours and juggling hectic family lives. So what can be done about it?

The government’s solution is to launch a $900,000 campaign, No Time For Never, to encourage women to get involved in sport and in the process look after themselves better.

While the campaign is to be applauded, the reality for many women is that there are reasons apart from putting themselves last that they don’t play sport. Sport by nature is a competitive endeavour, and while this definitely suits some women, many others prefer a non-combative environment.

Sometimes fitting in with the schedule of sporting games and trainings is not suitable, or something pops up at the last minute and you let your team down by not being able to turn up. Negative memories of childhood sport affect some, while others feel too self-conscious to get involved.

Instead of encouraging “sport”, the emphasis should be on regular activities including sport. This change would mean that some excuses for non-participation could be removed. A game of netball, for example, can be a great activity, but so can a yoga class, a gym workout, dance lessons, working out to an exercise DVD, or just going for a walk.

The key is to find an activity that is enjoyable, allows for personal time-out from commitments and busyness, fits into a tight family budget, and is regular.

Engaging in their chosen activity allows women to benefit both physically and mentally. The physical benefits include stronger muscles and bones, better cardiovascular health, more balanced hormones, fewer health issues, and often lower body weight. These are all excellent reasons for participation, but perhaps more important are the mental benefits.

Taking time out from a busy lifestyle dedicated to work and family allows stress release that enables the development of better coping skills. For the duration of the activity, worries and cares are forgotten, especially when the exercise is demanding. As much as women are great multi-taskers, being fully involved in an activity is a single-focus pursuit. There’s simply not room for anything else.

While women may still, in many cases, be the primary care-givers for children and be the main shopper, cook, and cleaner, there must be time allowed for their own activities. Being a role model is an important part of parenting, so showing children that exercise is an important aspect of everyday life is a great lesson for them to learn.

Being a working mum does not mean that women don’t have needs of their own. Fathers looking after their children are not “baby sitting”, they are parenting and can thus enable mothers the time to spend on activity. Exercising during a lunch hour is possible for many, as is early morning or late evening exercise. Sometimes it helps to create a deal with partners, along the lines of “You have time to do x while I mind the kids, so I’d like time to do y while you mind them.”

For those who theoretically have more time during the day, exercise can still be a challenge. Friends can arrange reciprocal child minding so one can exercise while the other minds the children, and then swap. Taking the kids along for a walk or jog or bike ride also allows exercise time in a busy schedule.

If you or someone you know feels that they simply don’t have time for exercise, think about the benefits and try to find a way to fit it into a busy schedule.