High-maintenance hair keeps some out of the gym

Not willing to wreck an expensive hairstyle by breaking a sweat at the gym? In a new US survey, 40 percent of African-American women said they skipped the gym to preserve their hair. About a third said that hair issues prevented them from exercising as much as they wanted to.

Sweat and moisture are a particularly hot-button issue for black women, who sometimes invest considerable time and money into transforming naturally curly hair into silky manes. Sweat is a notorious killer of smooth hair.

According to researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, African-American women are the least likely demographic in the country to meet physical activity guidelines -- that is, at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

Dermatologist Dr. Rebecca Hall and her team surveyed 103 African-American women ages 21 to 60, finding that 62 percent of the women had chemically relaxed hair. Many washed their hair every one to two weeks.

Thirty-six percent said they avoided swimming, and 29 percent said they avoided aerobic and gym activities.

Also 32 percent of the women reported scalp problems, such as flaking and itching, and hair breakage that were exacerbated by moisture.

"The high percentage of African-American women with baseline scalp complaints suggests that dermatologists need to consider these symptoms when providing care for African-American women," the researchers wrote.

Their findings were published December 17 in the journal Archives of Dermatology.

Last year, US surgeon general Dr. Regina M. Benjamin spoke at a hair show in Atlanta issuing a warning that women stop skimping on fitness to preserve their hairstyles.

"Oftentimes you get women saying, ‘I can't exercise today because I don't want to sweat my hair back or get my hair wet,' " she told The New York Times. "When you're starting to exercise, you look for reasons not to, and sometimes the hair is one of those reasons."

Access the study: http://archderm.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1485354

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