Our Health vs. Our Hair

Are you guilty of skipping exercise in the name of maintaining your hairstyle? We take a close look at how our obsession with our tresses can have a negative impact on our health

Approximately 77 percent of African-American women are either overweight or obese. So what does this have to do with our hair? "About a third of Black women cite complications of hair care as the reason they do not exercise or exercise less than they would like, according to Amy J. McMichael, M.D., the lead investigator in a study at Wake Forest University that looked at the connection between AA women, obesity and hairstyling. "I thought it would be interesting to look at what role their hair plays in their amount of exercise," continues McMichael. It's worth it for us to do whatever we can to preserve our health. Ann Smith Barnes, M.D., an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, adds that in addition to the weight loss benefits of exercise, African-American women should note that regular exercise also benefits our heart health, decreases mild depression, increases our bone density and muscle mass. Our society in general is too sedentary. Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers didn't go to the gym but neither did they sit in front of computers on in cars for hours at a time. They walked, regularly, to the store or to school. There was much more movement in their lives.

This hair thing is a unique issue for us. Most of us do not have wash-and-wear hair. Moisture, of any kind, is the kryptonite to many of our most preferable styles. It takes a few hours to style and straighten our manes. It takes only a few minutes of perspiration to ruin many of our preferred hairstyles. Yes, diet and exercise must go hand and hand, but this special issue of ours is certainly worth looking into. Obesity increases the risks of not only heart attacks and strokes, but also for both breast and uterine cancers.

If we didn't spend as much time/energy/money getting our hair to look a certain way, we wouldn't care as much about it coming undone. Locsk, buzz cuts, braids--looks that don't change much with moisture--can be easier to maintain than straighter looks (relaxers, press and curls), however most African-American women, about 65 percent wear their hair relaxed. Clearly, this is a preference, but relaxed hair isn't as workout-friendly as the other above mentioned styles. Some of us feel the need to look a certain way at work, in order to be accepted and to excel.








So what's the answer? How can we look good, feel good and take proper care of ourselves? Dr. McMichael compares working out to eating. Sometimes we prepare elaborate meals and sometimes we go for takeout, but we eat, regularly. We can do the same with exercise. Sometimes (just before a salon visit) we can break a sweat on the treadmill, on other days (the day of or after a salon visit) we walk for 20 minutes. Exercise doesn't always have to be this super-difficult, sweat-inducing, time-consuming thing. A 20-minute, brisk walk is good for you, and you don't have to break a sweat. You can even get in a good work out at home. Between exercise tapes, Fit TV, Wi, small weights, there are plenty of ways to work in a workout. We should also talk and learn from our stylist. They know our hair and can certainly show us some real style options that work after a workout. Health is everything. Don't let your hair get in the way of your well-being.