Strava data shows that women’s outdoor exercise drops when the sun is down

woman with white sunvisor running

Love those predawn or evening outdoor workouts? Well, let’s be honest, if you’re a woman, probably not; for many women, exercising when the sun isn’t up just isn’t worth the risk. And now Strava has culled data from its nearly 95 million users to confirm what we’ve always known: Women have a lot more barriers to working out than men.

Regardless of whether you’re working out in a gym, at home, or outdoors, women are still a long way off from reaching gender parity for exercising with men. Global Strava data, as Cycling Weekly reports, shows that women, on average, dedicate 15% less time to exercising than men. Across the world, women are 23% less likely to work out in the predawn hours, and 8% less likely to do so post-sunset. Reasons for this are aplenty: everything from safety, sexual harassment, cultural norms, and more childcare responsibilities, etc. The shortened winter days can squeeze a woman’s workout window even further.

Breaking it down a bit more by country showed that women in Spain averaged 29% less time for physical activity than men; in France, 25% less time; in Germany, 16%; and in the UK, the gap was just 6%. Busting this trend, interestingly Gen Z British women (age 18-29) logged 11% more hours of exercise than their male counterparts. While it’s a small anomaly in a global trend, it could point to a tidal shift to come.

Still, that doesn’t discount the sad fact that one in every five women is concerned with sexual harassment when exercising, particularly outside, and three in 10 have experienced it firsthand while exercising in parks or running down the street. A Runner’s World survey showed 84% of female runners have experienced some form of harassment that left them feeling unsafe. Being followed or flashed, honks, catcalls, lewd comments – we female runners have seen it all. Coping with harassment can especially be a barrier to pregnant women, beginners, or women struggling with weight issues.

These gender differences extend to commuting to work by bicycle as well: Strava’s earlier data shows that US women, for example, commute to work by bike an average of 17.4% less than men. The main reason: safety. Although this is good news, the proliferation of both more bicycle lanes and e-bikes is slowly closing up the gender gap.

While social norms are slowly progressing, we can’t change the world in a day, so here are a few tips for women when exercising alone outside, day or night: Stay in well-lit, well-maintained parks, or if you’re a trail lover, let a friend know where you’ll be. Always be situationally aware. Headphones are usually discouraged, but this need not be the case for every outdoor workout – just make sure your headphones are subtle and not easily spotted (to avoid looking distracted), and keep your music low, or opt for headphones like Aeroplex Aftershokz, which allow you to listen to music or podcasts without drowning out exterior noise. Still, cut the sound if you find yourself in a place that feels off or unfamiliar. Have your phone ready to call for help, if needed, and consider taking a self-defense class, or even carrying pepper spray. Of course, running in well-lit tracks in the mornings or evenings, in running groups, or with a friend are other options that remove the worry.

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