On average, women spend less time working out compared to men. But before the men reading this pat themselves on their very toned backs for prioritizing their fitness, the reason for this disparity might not have anything to do with greater motivation or dedication to a healthy lifestyle. A group of researchers from Australian National University recently found that heterosexual men are able get jacked because they’re gobbling up their partner’s gym time like protein bars.
“This is one of the first studies to show how, hour for hour, women’s time for their health is being squeezed to manage their jobs and the family, whereas men’s time for jobs and health is more protected,” study co-author Lyndall Strazdins said in a press release.
Strazdins and her team note that a growing body of past research shows that when men increase the amount of paid hours they’re working, the amount of unpaid labor at home generally declines. But for women who increase their paid workload, their work at home stays the same — and sometimes increases — which social scientists refer to as the “double burden.” Although it’s well established in the data, this new study is the first to investigate “whether capability to use time for health is unequal and gendered.”
To do so, researchers analyzed responses from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia suvey, which included responses from 7,000 cohabitating heterosexual couples ages 25 to 64 and captured data about work hours, unpaid domestic work and physical activity. Results confirmed that 34 percent of men in relationships engaged in moderate to intense physical exercise for at least 30 minutes three or more times a week, compared to 28.6 percent of coupled women.
The study also showed that the more women increased their hours at work or at home, the more this number declined, but the same wasn’t entirely true for men. For instance, when women increased their workload by 10 hours a week or (2 hours a day), only 22.6 percent of them kept up with working out. When the same thing happened to men, 32 percent still made time to hit the gym.
Overall, women’s days had “no give” for exercise, whereas men’s time was “elastic.” And while the men in the study typically worked longer hours on average, “this ‘buys’ them less and different types of family work, and indeed appears to enable physical activity,” Strazdins and her colleagues concluded.
“Men having more time for exercise and more flexibility in their work time is playing out in women’s bodies. Women are giving their health and well-being to their male partners,” Strazdins warned. “Even when a man in a couple increases the hours they work, they are able to preserve time to exercise, but when a woman works more, she gives up her time to exercise. This suggests men are borrowing their time from the women in their lives.”
But guys can’t take all of the blame. Strazdins faults employers and broader gender norms as well for the lack of balance in women’s lives. That is, a majority of boyfriends and husbands are probably not consciously poaching their partners’ pilates sessions, they’re just blissfully unaware that is what’s happening.
So if you want to support your partner in their health, instead of encouraging her to hit the gym, try folding the laundry or doing the dishes. That way, she can throw around some dumbbells without thinking about the extra weight she’s carrying at home.