Breasts as barriers to exercise?

Breasts are recognised as the forth biggest barrier for women to exercise. We offer solutions to support women to regain confidence to be more active in menopause.

Breasts as barriers to exercise?

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes, and for some women they can be a heavy burden, literally!

It’s recognised that barriers to exercise are multi-factorial. Here’s another one for us to consider when working with women in menopause - a time when breasts get bigger and women gain weight, with the result that women can lose the confidence to exercise, or to participate in exercise to their full potential.

A recent Menopause Movement webinar took a deep dive into breasts and how they can be barriers to movement. We’re sharing titbits from the event, here. Our speakers were:

·     Siobhan O’Donovan – Chartered Physiotherapist and founder of Posture fitting a pioneering physiotherapy approach to posture management with bra fitting at its core.
·     CharlottePage – Founder of peBe, innovativeSports Bra (D-G)
·     SamTaft - Creator of Boost, an innovative post cancer mastectomy breast form

In a study by the University of Portsmouth, size of breasts came in just behind motivation and energy, lack of time and health issues as a reason for women not taking part in exercise. 

What issues can impact on women with larger breasts when exercising?

Physical concerns include discomfort, pain, chaffing, rubbing, rashes and sweats under breasts. Psychologically, it can affect confidence, self-esteem, self-consciousness, and crate a feeling that breasts are out of control. This may be particularly so if women don’t like how they look when they exercise, and self-image can be severely dented in menopause. Women are likely to be wearing a bra that is too small, creating a squashed or floppy effect.

Research shows 70% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, but SiobhanO’Donovan, thinks that in her experience, the true figure is more like 100%.

Charlotte Page, founder of the innovative peBe sports bra is a self-confessed large-breasted, exercise lover and champion of inclusivity and confidence who has struggled since puberty to support her breasts comfortably and effectively. Finding the sports bras available, restrictive, and impacting negatively on her performance, she set out to provide a sports bra that removes breast pain and gives women the confidence to exercise, the peBe was born.

peBe sports bra

The data and science behind the peBe bra tell a familiar tale to UK woman who have an average breast size of 36DD. It’s worth thinking about the weight of these DD breasts -each breast weighs approximately one kilogram, or more. So, the average woman carries around the equivalent of two bags of sugar on her chest.

Combining this weight, with the fact that breasts move in a figure of eight shape (or asCharlotte says, are out of control) and are out of sync with the torso when they run, the busty woman is disadvantaged by both the pain she is likely to feel when running and the excessive movement of breasts unsupported by muscles.

How might big breasts impact on performance?

·     The Portsmouth research found that women who run in a bra that gives poor support can shorten their stride by four centimetres. In practice, this could mean running an extra mile, or 1.5 km, over the course of a marathon.

·     Increased perceived exertion - exercise may feel harder when breasts are not properly supported.

·     Increased upper body muscle activity -suggesting fatigue may be reached sooner.

·      Increased ground reaction forces - which may increase the risk of injury to the lower extremities.

Supporting women to be comfortable exercising and moving post-mastectomy

Each year 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK. Just over 80% of those diagnosed will have surgery and 43% of the women who have surgery undergoing a mastectomy. These women may choose to wear a breast form in their bra. With several breast forms available, they may not all be comfortable suitable for exercise and swimming due to their weight, composition or durability, especially in water.

The British-designed sculptural breast form ‘Boost’ challenges the stereotype of what a post cancer mastectomy breast form should look and feel like. The lightweight design allows air to circulate, keeping the breast area cooler and sweat-free, as air circulates, providing support for women wanting comfortable and light shaping when exercising.

Whatever their age, women should be breast aware and ensure their assets are  getting the right support. But never more so than in menopause, so women can avoid pain and discomfort, and enjoy the benefits of improved posture and the confidence to move.


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