Men take time from female partners for exercise, Australian study finds | Health

Australian men are more likely to take time from their female partners for exercise, which women are not afforded equally in return, research suggests.

Canberra researchers have analysed gender disparities in physical activity, finding that “hour for hour, paid or unpaid, women’s physical activity is constrained by their time use in ways that men’s is not”.

The study used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, drawing on information from 7,000 households made up of heterosexual couples aged 25 to 64.

The research, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, analysed the relationship between paid and family work time and physical activity.

Women were less physically active than men: 28.6% of women reported doing three moderate or intensive physical activities for at least 30 minutes a week, compared with 34% of men.

The researchers found that women’s physical activity dropped when either their paid or family work hours increased, or if the timing of their paid work was less flexible.

An increase in women’s paid work time by 10 hours a week was associated with a six percentage point decrease in physical activity, to 22.6%.

The study co-author Prof Lyndall Strazdins, of the Australian National University, said: “We’re wanting women to work equally, but we’re not enabling them to do that, and they’re cutting back on their health.”

A 10-hour increase in men’s paid work was associated with a smaller drop in physical activity – by two percentage points to 32% being physically active.

Strazdins said longer work hours for men had “almost no effect on their time for being active and keeping themselves healthy”.

Heterosexual men were likely to increase their physical activity when the working hours of their partners were more flexible, the research also found.

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Men reported more total paid and family work commitments a week, while women reported longer family work hours and less control over their work time.

For men, time spent on family work appears to be flexible and able to incorporate or accommodate physical activity: a protective factor that helps buffer men’s physical activity from long paid work hours,” the study found. “Although men generally spend longer hours on the job than women do … this ‘buys’ them less and different types of family work.”

Strazdins said: “When men have a job, they reduce the time they spend at home on care. But when women have a job, they don’t. What that tells you is that men’s jobs actually buy them out of family work, and it shifts time on to women.”

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Women were “taking up extra work to free their partners to earn an income and be healthy”, Strazdins said. “And then they are cutting back on their own health.”

The problem was structural rather than individual, according to Strazdins, who said the current system “coerces men into long-hour jobs and then women into supporting that”.

Strazdins added: “The solution has to start with us changing work to be gender fair, and that means allowing men to have more time for care, and women more time for work.”

The study also found “it is likely that non-binary, non-heterosexual couples likely negotiate time use and exchange differently within the household”.