It’s likely we all know at least some of the basic recommendations regarding fitness. Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, limit excess fat and sugar consumption, don’t smoke, and, of course, exercise.
The American Heart Association lays out its exercise recommendations thusly: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and/or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity a week, and strength training at least two days a week. This is what’s shown to keep people as healthy and strong as possible for as long as possible, moving through life.
So how come, according to one 2006 study, gay men only go to the gym, on average, one day a week? And why do LGBTQ+ college students engage in 17% less aerobic activity and 42% less resistance training than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts? And why are lesbian and bisexual women at greater risk of overweight and obesity than cisgender, heterosexual women?
Maintaining a consistent fitness regime can be a challenge for anybody, but there are several significant barriers in place that make it even harder for LGBTQ+ people.
Going into a gym locker room while being LGBTQ+ can be a daunting prospect. The simple experience of changing clothes at the gym might be uncomfortable or, at times, even dangerous. It makes sense that LGBTQ+ people might avoid putting themselves in such a position.
An irritating homophobic fact is that most gyms don’t accommodate LGBTQ+ couples in their membership packages. This can certainly be a limiting factor if LGBTQ+ people and their partner(s) want to get a family membership, but none is offered.
A resistance to engaging in physical activity may have started earlier in life. Many LGBTQ+ people report having experienced bullying and abuse as children that discouraged them from freely participating in Physical Education and other physical activities. This might have created a limiting attitude about exercise that many still hold in adulthood.
Interestingly, before gender disclosure, trans people tend to have a pretty good record of participating in physical activity. In one Spanish study, it was determined that before gender disclosure, approximately 75% of trans people engaged in regular activity, with 50% doing so three times or more per week.
After gender disclosure, however, these numbers drop by 14.5%. The researchers concluded that this change in behavior is because, after disclosure, people are at risk of entering into “an acute potential period of anxiety, discrimination, and victimization caused by trans persons’ body exposure.” During this time, LGBTQ+ people may limit putting themselves into situations where they feel judged, exposed, or at risk.
Lastly, we cannot discount the effect of the stress of being LGBTQ+ in a world that treats many as “the other” has. We all find different coping mechanisms when we’re under constant stress. Some are positive and supportive, others less so. Maybe food is comfort. Maybe drinking. Maybe binge-watching one series after another and melding with the couch. Not a big deal when it’s once in a while, but when it’s chronic, it can cause problems.
Persistent stress can lead to anxiety and depression as well as other mental health disorders. It might be too difficult to even think about moving one’s body.. And gaining some weight when depressed may develop or exacerbate body image issues.
Chronic stress and mental illness need to be addressed before anything else. Check out the OutCare Health OutList national directory of LGBTQ+ affirming providers search and find a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist and get support. Once you feel ready and able to embark on a fitness journey, what can you do?
One solution would be to eliminate the majority of the aforementioned barriers by going to a gym that caters specifically to LGBTQ+ clientele. They exist but aren’t widespread. You can check out OUT Foundation to see if there’s a gym near you.
If group activities are your thing, you can sign up for LGBTQ+ team sports and activities in your area. The United States Gay Sports Network is a good resource to find a multitude of activities in your area, from football to dodgeball. Local Meetups often have LGBTQ+ walking, running, and sports groups available.
There are as many ways to move as there are people on the planet. Some will do best as solitary joggers with some hand weights at home. Others come alive in a crowded Zumba class. Some love the gym, some prefer to walk their dog. There is no wrong way to move–if you enjoy it and do it with consistency.
In an ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would be and feel included in every space. Until that time, do some homework and figure out what places feel most safe and judgment-free to you. Then move your body whenever you can–for your health and for your happiness.
To learn more about this topic, join OutCare’s upcoming OutTalk episode, Fit & Fabulous: More than Just A Trip to The Gym, on August 18th at 6 pm EDT to hear from diverse panelists about their fitness journeys, supportive resources, and methods to foster health and inclusivity.