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AARP Report Links African American Women’s Hair Styles, Level of Physical Activity

Dec. 1, 2009
AARP Media Relations

AARP Report Links African American Women’s Hair Styles, Level of Physical Activity
Study Offers Recommendations for Working Out and Maintaining Hairdos

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A new report released today from AARP finds that for many African American women, not being able to manage their hair style is a key barrier to exercise. The report suggests that brisk walking for 10 minutes at a time, for a total of 150 minutes a week, can keep Black women active and alleviate some of the hair issues that come with more vigorous workouts.

AARP held focus groups with African American women aged 45+ and African American hair stylists. Black women said they avoid physical activity that makes them perspire because it gets their hair wet, which ruins a hairdo and can present a large disruption to their daily schedules.

“African American women can take care of their bodies like they take care of their hair,” said fitness guru and AARP fitness expert Donna Richardson Joyner. “You have to have balance … your hair cannot be an excuse to keep you from working out.”

Study participants reported it takes one to two hours to do their hair themselves at home each time they wash it. Additionally, participants reported scheduling their exercise around hair appointments, which usually occur every two weeks. They said the cost of a salon visit makes going more often than every two weeks cost-prohibitive.

The AARP report found that walking is a form of physical activity that enables African American women to reap the benefits of being physically active without the hair problems that occur with vigorous exercise or certain types of moderate exercises such as cycling and swimming. Three 10-minute walks each day will accumulate almost 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

“Increasing physical activity is incredibly important to reducing risk of chronic disease,” said AARP Senior Researcher Helen Brown, Ph.D., MPH. “Thirty minutes of activity a day, broken down into three 10-minute increments, is a key first step to helping African American women live healthier lifestyles.”

According to the Journal of the National Medical Association, 77 percent of Black women are overweight and 49 percent are obese. Additionally, African Americans suffer higher rates of chronic illness related to obesity, such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, than the U.S. population overall.

Additional report recommendations include:

Use a “cool cloth.” Cool cloths placed around the head also can help Black women keep their body temperature down while engaging in physical activity.

Using a pedometer. Pedometers are inexpensive tools that can be attached to a hip pocket or a shoe to motivate people to move more throughout the day. Reaching small goals of 1,000 to 2,000 steps per day can eventually build to 10,000 steps per day.

Starting a walking program. A walking program can be undertaken with friends, family, neighbors or co-workers. Walking around the neighborhood or during lunch breaks with co-workers is a great way to get started. For tips on how to start a walking group, visit

AARP conducted qualitative research through marketing firm IMAGES USA in Atlanta, Ga. Focus groups were conducted in Atlanta, Ga., and Wichita, Kan., and consisted of eight to nine African Americans each. The first group was comprised of African American women aged 45 to 56+, and the other of African American hair stylists.

The full report is available at

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 34.5 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's nearly 40 million members and Americans 50+; AARP Segunda Juventud, the only bilingual U.S. publication dedicated exclusively to the 50+ Hispanic community; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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