Survey reveals the impact of COVID-19 on Australian women’s health and fitness

The toll that COVID-19 has taken on Australian women’s health and fitness is laid bare in the 2022 Jean Hailes National Women’s Health SurveyNearly one in five women reported loss of fitness, weight gain, and muscle and joint pain.

The survey, which was conducted in March-May and attracted more than 14,000 respondents, revealed that 30% of women said they were less fit, 28% said they had gained weight, and 20% said they had muscle and joint pain.

The findings are not surprising. Women assumed the greater shares of housework, childcare, home-learning, as well as managed their own work after the arrival of the pandemic. This burden of care in addition to the closures of facilities meant that many had to abandon their usual fitness regimes like working out in a gym, swimming, doing yoga or Pilates.

“I had significantly more joint and muscle pain …”

Those closures had significant effects on women’s health. Queenslander Penny Conlan says that doing aqua aerobics several times a week is integral to her level of mobility and keeping the pain of her osteoarthritis under control. “The lockdown meant I had no access to the pool, and I had significantly more joint and muscle pain and was incredibly stiff,” she says.

Anita Hobson-Powell, CEO of Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), says women often struggle to put their own health first. The demands on their time during COVID-19 meant it was hard for them to fit movement into their daily lives.

“Regardless of their health status and stage of life, every woman can gain significant benefits from being active. My message to all Australian women is that to take care of others, you first need to care for yourself. It isn’t selfish to prioritise your health and take time to get the right advice when it comes to exercise.”

Ms Hobson-Powell says that while women with muscle or joint pain often avoid exercise for fear of exacerbating it, the fact is that appropriately prescribed exercise interventions can help to manage and, in some cases, even treat persisting joint and muscle pain.

Permission to look now to their own needs

CEO of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, Janet Michelmore AO, believes it’s important for women to acknowledge the challenges of the past two-and-a-bit years and to give themselves permission to look now to their own needs.

We know that we as women are resilient and in the coming months, we will slowly but surely work our way back to better health and fitness. Like all journeys, this one will begin with a step.”

Janet Michelmore AO, CEO, Jean Hailes for Women’s Health

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health is a national not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of women across this country. This is its seventh annual health survey and the first time it has been translated into Chinese (simplified), Arabic and Vietnamese.

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