Half of British women ‘never exercise’? No wonder – we are all cycling widows now

Half of British women 'never exercise'?  No wonder – we are all cycling widows now
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Apparently, almost half of all British women don’t do regular exercise – well, no s***. This should come as no surprise to anyone. We are all cycling widows, now.

As one commentator put it on Twitter: “Half of women never exercise and yet so many women I know take on the majority of childcare because their husband “needs to unwind” by playing golf/football/cycling round Surrey for six hours every weekend.”

Another said: “Britain has an unaffordable childcare system that disproportionately restricts the earning, health, careers and freedom of women. It always comes back to that.”

They’re both right, in my view – because huge swathes of women are unwitting victims of an insidious plague affecting their weekends (and in some people’s opinion, the countryside): the curse of the male cycling club.

You know the type: “mamils” (middle aged men in lycra), riding side-by-side on narrow roads, stopping at lay-bys to dowse themselves in water and energy gels. More often than not, these “club rides” take all day, or all morning, conveniently on a Saturday or Sunday – with the rider returning home, exhausted and “needing a nap”. No such luck for mothers stuck with the kids all day, then. I’m sure plenty of them need a nap, too. And if you want to substitute “cycling” with “going to watch football”, feel free – the same applies.

What’s more, the 8,000-person strong Nuffield Health study – known as the Healthier Nation Index – also revealed that the women (47 per cent) who gave up activities such as jogging and gym classes first noticed the absence during lockdown. They even said their health was worse as a result.

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This should come as absolutely no surprise, either – we already know that women were disproportionately affected by the pandemic; that more than 70 per cent of working mothers who asked to be furloughed in the wake of school closures had those requests refused. We know that women did the majority of childcare during lockdowns, and that one in three mothers with school-aged children also reported poor mental health as a result of home-schooling.

We know that women still do the majority of household chores, even when they live with a male partner; and two thirds of mothers report not having enough childcare for the school summer holidays (a situation I can very much personally relate to, as of right now). many women do the bulk of unpaid emotional labor in the home, too. Our society just doesn’t tend to acknowledge them for it.

I spoke to one woman, a self-professed “cycling widow” with two children, who revealed how she turned the tables on her husband after being left alone for at least half a day – sometimes a full day – every weekend. Both have busy jobs with much responsibility, but time out (from the kids and the family home) was scarce – at least for her.

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“My husband has always been a keen cyclist and I didn’t really know what the fuss was about – though extensive breaks from parental duties at weekends (while I dragged the kids to swimming lessons, for example) definitely seemed appealing,” she told me.

“I borrowed a friend’s bike during lockdown so we could go on family bike rides (I was the only one without one) – and that gave me an insight into the potential exploration and exercise benefits – when the kids weren’t moaning about it being “too far”.

“So, I got a bike through the bike-to-work scheme and started carving out opportunities to go out on my own. Fortunately, my husband doesn’t bat an eyelid about me doing this as he has the cycling “bug” himself so understands that cycling longer distances is a time-consuming hobby. But now it’s become a negotiation on who gets to go out when…”

I love this approach – it’s a classic case of, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. Thought that would involve me getting on a bike. It could be a long, hard road ahead.

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