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What stops women and girls exercising?

A new guide tackles causes such as fear of judgement and sexual harassment.

A new guide has been published to give health clubs, gyms and leisure centres in the UK insights into how to attract more women and girls and to encourage them to get physically active.

Produced in partnership with Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign and ukactive, the guide called, How to improve your services for women and girls, as told by the 51% – has been designed to provide tangible solutions to bring down the barriers experienced by many women and girls who want to be more active.

It highlights the importance of increasing awareness of the overall health benefits of being active for a female audience and offers advice on robust policies to tackle personal safety fears.

The guide includes case studies from both public and private operators – such as W10, LED Community Leisure and PureGym – which outline successful strategies to improve services for women and girls.

Case studies cover everything from staff training and interaction to flexible programming and the introduction of specialist equipment.

The guide also highlights the biggest concerns and reservations which currently prevent women and girls from visiting health clubs and leisure centres.

These include fear of judgement from both men and women; the cost of activities; worries about personal safety; knowledge about using equipment; and images used of women in marketing materials that are unrelatable and make women feel negative about themselves.

The guide has been informed by a bespoke survey of 1,030 women and girls over the age of 16, alongside a series of focus groups.

Key findings from the surveys include that nearly half (45 per cent) of women say a member of staff showing them how to perform exercises/activities and use equipment would encourage them to participate in more activity within fitness and leisure centres.

Cost is most often identified as a barrier to participation in exercise or physical activity within a fitness and leisure centre, with a third (32 per cent) of respondents who have attended a fitness and leisure centre in the past three years citing it as being too expensive.

Worryingly, one in six (13 per cent) women say they worry about the risk or threat of sexual harassment, intimidation or embarrassment at health clubs.

Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said: “We've listened closely to the views of women and girls about how they feel using our nation’s gyms and leisure centres.

“We know how popular fitness activities can be among women and girls, but there's a huge opportunity for our sector’s facilities to engage many more, as part of our shared ambition with the government to reach five million new members this decade.

“Reducing the barriers to female participation is a fundamental challenge for our sector, with our research showing clear demand from more women and girls to be able to enjoy these facilities.

“We're proud to partner with Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign to produce this practical guide for our members, which we believe will be a crucial tool to help improve their services for women and girls.”

Rebecca Passmore, MD of PureGym, said: “I feel very strongly that we need all women to feel like gyms are places they can belong, feel safe and confident to get active.

“Through the work done by ukactive and Sport England we now have a clearer picture of women’s concerns about exercising at the gym, which is vital in our ability to start breaking down the barriers.

“At PureGym we are already working hard to address these challenges, but seeing as these are industry-wide issues, we need an industry-wide response to make a real difference.

“The launch of this guide will aid our collective efforts to make facilities more inclusive and welcoming environments, and to empower women to start their health and fitness journeys.”

To download the guide, click here.

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