One of the best ways to better sell to runners – especially female runners ­– is to understand them better, so ASICS went ahead and commissioned a unique global study on the gender exercise gap, reaffirming the positive correlation between women’s exercise levels and their mental wellbeing. The bottom line: Women say they’re 52 percent happier, 50 percent more energized, 48 percent more confident, 67 percent less stressed and 80 percent less frustrated when regularly exercising.

One little finding buried inside the report should get the attention of the running community: Running and strength training were the most frequently reported types of activity across age groups, activity levels and regions.

Yet the study of 24,959 people, commissioned by ASICS and independently led by renowned academics Dr. Dee Dlugonski and Professor Brendon Stubbs, alarmingly found that more than half of women are dropping out or stopping exercise completely, which may negatively impact their state of mind. 

In response, ASICS is recognizing and amplifying the positive impact of individuals and grassroots organizations who are breaking barriers for women in sport, to support, empower and inspire more women to move. Among the other important findings that spurred ASICS to action:

  • Worryingly, the global study revealed that over half of women are unhappy with their exercise levels. All women are experiencing barriers to exercise throughout their lifetime, from time pressures (74 percent) and low self-confidence (35 percent) to intimidating environments (44 percent) or not feeling sporty enough (42 percent).
  • What’s more, almost two-thirds (61 percent) of mothers cited motherhood as the primary reason they dropped out of doing regular exercise or sport altogether, showing the impact that caregiving responsibilities are having on women’s activity levels. Focus group participants frequently described how societal expectations about gender roles, including that women should bear the majority of family caregiving, and household responsibilities played a major part in them stopping exercise. 
  • Interestingly, men’s perceptions of the challenges women face were different to the reality. Only 34 percent of men recognized lack of time as a barrier to exercise for women, despite three-quarters (74 percent) of women citing the issue. Instead, men thought body insecurities were the leading problem, with 58 percent of men reporting this as the main barrier, compared to 36 percent of women.
  • In fact, of the top five barriers to exercise perceived by men, only one (costs) actually featured in the list of most common obstacles reported by women, highlighting a disparity between men’s perceptions and the daily reality felt by women around the world.
  • Despite this, the study found that over a third of women say their friends are their most important exercise influencers, noting that they’re more motivated to exercise by women like themselves, rather than celebrities. Parents and romantic partners were also influential, showing that both genders can have an impact on women’s participation in sport.​ When asked why they would exercise, women universally said for their mental (92 percent) and physical (96 percent) wellbeing rather than aesthetics.

“Our study showed that the gender exercise gap is a complex challenge which did not develop overnight,” explains study lead, Dr. Dee Dlugonski, Assistant Professor at Sports Medicine Research Institute at the University of Kentucky. “Given it has no sole cause, it will not be solved with one single solution, but when asked what could help, women noted that making movement more accessible, inclusive and recognized in all forms, while challenging society’s gendered expectations, would support them in moving more.”

“This includes making exercise centered around women and their needs,” Dlugonski adds. “From providing childcare and catering for all activity levels, to fitting around work, being fun, affordable, safe, welcoming and judgement-free. All these solutions, while small, can have a significant impact and through this study we identified thousands of individuals and organizations around the world who are already driving change.”

This includes Tenia Fisher and Asia Rawls, two of ASICS North America’s Sound Mind, Sound Body Ambassadors. Tenia has used running as an escape since she was a kid and she now finds her purpose as a lead captain of F.E.A.R. (Forget Everything And Run), a group aimed at bridging the fitness gap and ensuring that runners of color feel welcome and accepted. Meanwhile, Asia believes that running has the power to positively impact both the mind and body and she focuses her efforts as a volunteer coach for WeRun313, a diverse running community with over 1,800 participants in the Detroit, MI area. 

Among other key takeaways: 

  • Women’s physical activity levels are positively linked to their state of mind. The more women move, the better women feel. Women who report exercising regularly are happier, more confident and less stressed.
  • Yet around the world, over half of women are not exercising as much as they would like to and are losing out on the physical and mental health benefits. Employed women, mothers and homemakers were the least active groups of women, while students and retired women were the  most active.
  • 51 percent of women reported decreasing or stopping exercise as they got older and all women were facing myriad universal challenges and barriers to exercise throughout their lifetime.
  • Almost two-thirds of mothers cited motherhood as the primary reason they dropped out of doing regular exercise. Gendered expectations about caregiving and household responsibilities were also shown to negatively impact women’s exercise levels.
  • Over 80 percent of women endorsed intrinsic and health-related reasons for exercise including physical benefits, self-care, mental wellbeing, staying in shape, managing stress, feeling happy, and enjoying exercise/sport. Very active women were more likely to report exercising because it was ‘always part of their life’ (71 percent) compared with inactive women (40 percent).