I was a bit skeptical about a study from a few years ago, which found that two out of five African-American women were avoiding exercising because of their hair.
My general belief is that people who don’t want to do something will find any ol’ excuse not to do so – and that includes choosing their fresh edges over being physically strong and healthy. But not so fast, said Jena Renee Rogers, licensed master braider and Philadelphia salon owner, “I will say that it is a very big deal. In fact, hair is a major deterrent. One of the biggest reasons I hear black women say they can’t work out today is because they just got their hair done. Women who are serious about fitness and health will figure out a way to work out and maintain a nice hairstyle. But first you have to get serious. That’s the thing.”
Rogers knows what it means to be serious about fitness. In addition to her duties at the salon, she’s also a college student, studying Kinesiology exercise and fitness science and she’s a certified fitness trainer, who for the past 14 years has helped hundreds reach their fitness goals through group fitness classes (Zumba, Piloxing, boot camp, and spinning), which she teaches daily, as well as personal training. She is also founder of the non-profit organization, Push Until Success Happens (P.U.S.H), which supports initiatives to help motivate kids and families towards more healthy living. Did I also mention that she is also a mother and a wife?
But while Rogers has plenty to keep her occupied in her day planner, she says that she too has to find time to workout. ‘Wait, so you exercise outside of the exercising you do while instructing others on how to exercise?’ I asked. “I know it sounds funny but I do have to make time to work on my own fitness goals that I have created for myself,” says Rogers. “And that’s the thing for a lot of black women. We have so much to do: we gotta work; gotta get the kids; we gotta get everyone something to eat for dinner; we gotta clean; and at the end of the day, we are tired. Black women take care of everyone in the universe except themselves. But I always tell the women in my classes that we have to make time for ourselves too.”
And as Rogers sees it, health and fitness is tandem to loving one’s self. Heart disease, stroke and diabetes remains the top causes of death among African American women, yet most medical professionals agree that these diseases are preventable through the simple change of diet and exercise. Therefore, working out is as important, if not paramount, to all the external stuff we do to show our love for ourselves, including our hair and makeup.
And while there are indeed plenty of barriers, including socio-economics, which keep black women from committing to a regular exercise plan, Rogers warns women not to view these obstacles as a permanent state, but rather, a temporary challenge to overcome and maneuver around. “I know everyone can’t afford classes, a gym membership and a trainer. This is very true and very relevant. I hear you and I get that. But I got a free alternative; walk around the block a couple of times during your lunch break or go up and down the stairs in your home 30 times; do bicep curls with two filled water bottles; put a towel over your bedroom door and use it to do some pull-ups; turn on music and dance for one hour; heck, lift the kids a few times if you have to. The point is to get you moving and you don’t necessarily have to pay to do that.”
Rogers offers four proposals for women looking to get around those barriers, which have deterred them from working out, the chief among them is to make the decision to start and then to commit that decision to pen and paper. “Mark a start date in your calendar and then write out a daily workout routine so that you can organize yourself and maximize your goals. Don’t be like those people who go to the gym and are completely lost about what to do. Create a game plan so this way you are more likely to stick with it.”
Rogers also advises jumping jacks as a great way to work the entire body (provided you don’t have knee issues. If so, Rogers says try sitting in a chair, standing up, squeezing the butt and then sitting down again); setting realistic long term fitness goals (including understanding that fitness is a life-long commitment), and trying group fitness classes like Zumba, kickboxing and spinning for those who never exercised in their lives (outside of gym in school) and might be a little sheepish about putting themselves out there.
“I know for some of the more heavier women, working out in public places like gyms can put a lot of pressure on them. Sometimes I train some heavier women and they get embarrassed when their stomachs come from beneath their shirts. Truth is that some people can be very mean and act as bullies by making fun of people for their weight. We folks, who are in better physical condition, especially women, must do a better job with being sensitive and supportive to other women. But also, that is where the whole self-love thing comes into play. You can’t be bothered with how you look at the gym. Celebrate what will be and what can be.”
So what about the hair thing? How do women, who really are genuinely concerned about their hair also balance that with their concern for their overall health? In addition to considering more adaptable hair styles like dreadlocks, braids and lower maintenance styles, Rogers says that is it possible to have a good workout without sweating out your hair, however, that all depends on your fitness goals. For those just getting started, a 30-minute brisk power-walk during your lunch break is a great way to start conditioning without tearing your hair up. However, Rogers says that eventually your workout plan will need to evolve to match your increasing endurance, strength and fitness levels. And when that happens, hair ties, caps, wraps and bonnets (covered please) are a fitness savvy girl’s best friend. But either way, you and your hair will have to get with the program.
“Unfortunately, there is no way around it. And once you get serious about fitness, you will find a way to make it all work for you. Look at it as prevention: If you don’t find time for exercise, you will find time for illness.”