Not Enough Doctors Recognize Hair Care as a Barrier to Exercise for African American Women

Education needed to help doctors work with patients and find solutions to stay active

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – African American women face a unique challenge to regular exercise – their hair. However, it’s a problem that is not often acknowledged by primary care doctors as a barrier to a healthy lifestyle. A new study by researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finds that, while doctors value conversations about exercise with their African American female patients, they rarely discuss how hair care affects physical activity.

     “As physicians, if we don’t have those specific conversations, we’re not doing everything that we can to decrease this barrier and really help African American women overcome what they feel is holding them back from exercise,” said Dr. Sophia Tolliver, a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and lead author of the study. 

     The study found 95% of primary care doctors have had conversations about exercise with their African American female patients. However, more than 3/4 have never discussed hair care as a challenge and only about a third felt comfortable discussing it. 

     “It’s going to come down to increasing education about African American hair care, cultural practices when it comes to hair and ways to counsel a patient in an office visit about decreasing that barrier,” Tolliver said.

     If these conversations don’t happen in the exam room, African American women can take charge of their health by finding ways to be active while preserving their hairstyles. Effective solutions may vary by hair texture, but Dr. Tolliver says you can begin by trying braids, twists or extensions and seeing how different styles react to sweat or moisture. You can also schedule more strenuous workouts on the day you plan to wash your hair.

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Kristian Mines (left) has her hair done in a Columbus, Ohio salon. The time and money spent on hair care is a common barrier to exercise for African American women, but finding a style that can withstand a sweaty workout can help them stay active.

Dr. Sophia Tolliver (left) examines a patient at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center after discussing ways to preserve her hairstyle during exercise. She led a study that found few primary care providers acknowledge hair care as a barrier to exercise for African American women.

Kristian Mines (right) has found a hairstyle that will not be undone by a sweaty workout. While hair care is a common barrier to exercise for African American women, a new study finds it is not a challenge that is commonly acknowledged by primary care physicians.

Exercise is a part of Kristian Mines’ daily life. She used to avoid exercise because of how sweat affects her hair, but she has found a style that she can easily preserve after a workout.