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This month, women of all ages will join together in the largest national promotion of women’s health in the United States. The 11th annual Women’s Health and Fitness Day takes place Wednesday.

An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 women in more than 1,000 local groups are expected to participate in grass-roots events around that date. Those events range from organized walks to exercise demonstrations, health screenings and information workshops.

The goal is to encourage women to take control of their health; to learn facts they need to make smart health choices and to make time for regular physical activity. On the national level, the event is organized by the Health Information Resource Center.

On the local level, women’s health and fitness has also been identified as a priority.

The 2011 Yellowstone County Community Health Assessment found many significant disparities between men and women in terms of their health and activity levels.

More than 27 percent of women reported a lack of leisure-time physical activity, compared to 17 percent of men. This percentage increased to more than 85 percent for women age 65 and older. The CHA also found that nearly 40 percent of women reported being more limited in activity due to physical, mental or emotional problems. Among men, the figure was just over 20 percent. Those limits were more pronounced among low-income and older women.

To look at the underlying causes of that gender gap, The Healthy By Design Health Equity Workgroup conducted an analysis of gender disparities in activity levels. The Healthy By Design working group relied on a grant received by the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation from the Office on Women’s Health to do the research.

The analysis identified several main reasons for gender disparities in women’s activity levels. Barriers to activity included:

• Women’s traditional role as caregivers left little time or energy for women to take care of themselves.

• Women felt pressured to maintain their appearance. That pressure limited the time throughout the workday for physical activity, since strenuous physical activity generated sweat, causing discomfort and embarrassment for women in the workplace.

• Women’s hobbies and occupations were often less physically active and demanding than men’s occupations and hobbies.

• Women often felt unsafe exercising outdoors because of traffic, and the fear of becoming a victim of crime.

• Women living in poverty did not consider physical activity or health to be top priorities.

Local Fitness Day events

For updates on Women’s Health and Fitness Day events in Yellowstone County, visit http://www.fitnessday.com/women and contact event coordinators. Area businesses can also volunteer to sponsor an event.

Individuals who want to learn more about health and fitness can attend a free, public screening of HBO’s documentary series, “The Weight of The Nation” on Tuesday, Oct. 16, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Parmly Billings Library.

This documentary discusses the causes of America’s obesity epidemic and offers advice on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The screening at the library is hosted by Healthy By Design. After the documentary, health professionals will be on hand to answer questions from the audience. Refreshments will be provided. For more information about the HBO documentary series, visit http://hbo.com/theweightofthenation.

The workgroup

The Health Equity Workgroup focuses on the economic, social and environmental factors that influence health. This workgroup, under the guidance of the Office on Women’s Health Project staff, tries to examine and decrease barriers to healthy lives, especially among those most at risk. More information about the workgroup can be found by visiting the Healthy By Design website at http://www.healthybydesignyellowstone.org/initiatives/women-children.

Hannah Miller is a prevention health specialist with RiverStone Health Community Health Services. She can be reached at hannah.mil@riverstonehealth.org or 406-651-6537.

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