Women are facing unprecedented pressure on their health during lockdown as the gender gap continues to widen, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Kate Dale, the campaign lead for This Girl Can campaign, have said.
In an impassioned joint plea, Grey-Thompson and Dale said women not only had to often deal with an increased workload, including home school responsibilities, during the third lockdown, but also had fewer opportunities to exercise.
Last year, Sport England, which tracks the nation’s weekly activity levels, reported a “retreat” in women’s activity levels during the first lockdown. Grey-Thompson, a former Paralympian who is now chair of ukactive, warned the situation had become more acute during the winter.
“Women are facing unprecedented pressure on their health due to lockdown, not least when trying to stay active,” she said. “There should be serious concern about the impact on our overall wellbeing, particularly without the same opportunities to stay active for our mental and physical health.”
According to ukactive – which represents more than 4,000 gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools – women make up 54% of gym members. Furthermore, 76% of those at group classes are women, with the most popular workouts being spinning, aerobics and yoga.
Grey-Thompson urged the government to help by reopening facilities as quickly as possible after schools go back. “We know that women really value the essential services provided leisure facilities, and the longer they are closed, the greater the impact on our long-term health,” she said.
The government is expected to announce its plans for easing out of lockdown next Monday. But Professor Greg Whyte said new ukactive data, which showed an overall rate of 1.7 Covid cases per 100,000 visits to gyms and pools in the second half of 2020, suggested sports facilities were far safer than many had assumed.
“Women are being left behind as a result of lockdown closures of the leisure and fitness sector,” Whyte said. “Swimming and group exercise play a central role in the opportunity to enhance physical, mental, emotional and social health. If the goal is to enhance the efficacy of the vaccine, improve population health, protect the NHS and save lives, it is vital that women have access to the leisure and fitness sector, with its proven safety record, as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Dale conceded that the past year had impacted people’s motivation to exercise. “Activity habits have had to shift and flex to deal with financial insecurity, anxieties around the virus, home-schooling responsibilities, and an increased care burden for many,” she said. “The good news is that we know that 69% are consciously looking forward to getting back to the activities that they enjoyed before Covid-19.”