Published May 2021
Funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, this report builds on findings from our 2018 research, Menopause, Me and Physical Activity, that show that women overwhelmingly want to be more active during this life stage. It provides an important opportunity for a reset and to reframe sport and exercise as enjoyable as well as essential to good health and wellbeing.
However, at present, far too many women in midlife are missing out on the social, psychological, and physical health benefits of being active. A third of women aged 41 to 60 are not meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of 150 minutes per week of exercise and a fifth are not achieving even 30 minutes per week*.
Within this new research, we examined every aspect of women’s lives over a five-month period to fully understand their experiences of menopause and physical activity and uncover the barriers that women experience to being active throughout midlife and menopause. We focused specifically on women in lower socioeconomic groups because we know they face additional barriers and are less likely to be active, and spoke exclusively to inactive women who had either lapsed from being active previously or had never enjoyed being active.
We found multiple physical, psychological, and social midlife and menopause factors are preventing women from getting active at this time which are displayed in our Model of Midlife, Menopause and Exercise.
Women in midlife feel largely ignored, invisible and irrelevant, and this is particularly true when it comes to sport and exercise. Yet sustaining fitness and activity levels for women of this age has such life-changing benefits in relation to happiness, mental wellbeing and physical health, now and into later life.
In order to consider how to re-engage women and re-introduce physical activity to them, we also developed five principles to help the sport sector deliver programmes that speak to women’s needs.
Five principles to inspire women to be active in midlife:
- Endless Possibilities – Expand perceptions and opportunities for being active.
- Judgement-Free Zone – Welcoming and supportive environment.
- Support Network – Offer built-in social support.
- Expand the Image of What Sporty Means – Inspiring, relatable role models.
- Make It Relevant – Reference specific, relevant benefits.
Following the completion of the research, we hosted an online session with experts from the sport, healthcare and HR sectors. Together the group discussed the findings and identified recommendations to improve women’s lives during this time, looking at both menopause and physical activity.
- Reframe midlife exercise in an inspiring way: talk more about how great it feels, and less about it being a necessary evil.
- Use Women in Sport’s five principles to improve existing offers and create new opportunities.
- Engage new sectors and stakeholders, such as employers and health professionals, to help get women moving in midlife.
Women in midlife are also invisible in the marketing and delivery of sport and exercise, and alongside this unique piece of insight, Women in Sport has partnered with Getty Images to launch a curation of ground-breaking images and short films that challenge how women going through the menopause are portrayed in society. They showcase women who have experienced menopause, illustrating the joy of exercise and how it changed their lives through building community, friendship, adventure, fun and camaraderie. The curation of visuals will sit in Getty’s Disrupt Aging® collection. (LINK). The images and videos are available on Getty Images and their sister site iStock for editorial, commercial and stock usage.
*Sport England (2020) Active Lives survey May 19/20.