Reviewed by Dr Lee Smith, Associate Professor of Public Health​

New research from Garmin shows the negative impact winter has on the mental and physical wellbeing of women across the UK

An incredible 70% of women say their overall wellbeing is worse in winter, reveals new research from Garmin. According to the research, women are far more likely to find their wellbeing disrupted than men (56%), whether that’s down to the amount of exercise they get during the winter months, mental health issues – or even personal safety concerns.

The new research, launched today, looks at the impact winter has on female health. It showed one of the biggest aspects affecting women’s health during winter was a reluctance to exercise as much compared with the summer months. In fact, more than two thirds (68%) of women find their exercise routines negatively impacted by winter’s darker mornings and evenings, with around three quarters putting this down to the colder weather.

More than half (51%), however, said they’re scared for their safety while exercising during these months, and a similar number (52%) said they would continue to be fearful of exercising during winter in the future. Even so, over two fifths of women, simply put their reluctance to exercise over winter down to a general feeling of lethargy (42%).

But it’s not just physical fitness affecting female wellbeing at this time of year: over two fifths (43%) said their mental health was disrupted during the winter months (43%). This was significantly higher when compared to men; only a third of UK men said winter has a negative impact on their mental health. Furthermore, a third of women said they felt more stressed over winter, while over a quarter (27%) said their sleep was worse than at any other time of year.

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After seeing the research results, GP and Garmin Ambassador Dr. Zoe Williams commented:

“As a GP, I’m not shocked that women struggle more with their wellbeing during the winter. In fact, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is significantly more prevalent in women than men.

One biological hypothesis is that women’s fluctuating hormone levels play a role. Certain stages of our menstrual cycle can put us at a low ebb and those experiencing perimenopause or menopause often have numerous symptoms. When you then add in the effects of winter, such as the fact that reduced sunlight can affect serotonin (the happy hormone) levels, then you can see why these hormonal fluctuations impact us more.

Equally, as women we juggle a lot – from work to childcare to caring for older relatives. While we are arguably the more resilient sex, all of this can leave our tanks empty, which leaves us less able to cope with the added biological stress.”

Perhaps most worryingly, the research showed women are carrying this burden alone, with an incredible 40% saying they have been accused of over-exaggerating or being over-dramatic about the way they feel when it comes to issues around their wellbeing. Some 45% said they’ve had health & wellness symptoms written off as simply ‘part of being a woman’. Half of those who thought their wellbeing concerns had been misunderstood felt there’s a need for more open, society-wide conversations around female health. 

“Again, this doesn’t surprise me. For many years, medical professionals haven’t been equipped with the responses needed to help even the most prevalent issues women face. The NHS is incredible, but for so long it was an institution built by men for men. That means symptoms like hot flushes or incontinence – routine things that go hand-in-hand with having periods, the menopause, or childbirth – have been seen as ‘part of being a woman’, or sometimes even laughed off,” added Dr Zoe.

“100 years ago, perhaps nothing could really be done to help – but it can now! Women should feel confident seeking support from a medical professional. The Government’s recent request for contributions towards the Women’s Health Strategy was a positive step, and shows the tide is turning when it comes to listening to women.

Research like this from Garmin also shows that people are recognising that women need to be listened to, not talked at, especially when it comes to their health. Women need treatments, products and advice that are tailored to them, and this shows some of the right steps are being made in hearing what they really want and need.”

Dr Zoe has advised women to carve out at least 10 minutes each day to do something they need to make them feel happy – and not to negotiate on taking the time to do it:  

“There will never be one approach that suits everyone for feeling better at this time of year. So my advice is to sit down and think about what makes you feel better personally.

Perhaps it’s exercise, meditation, or even grabbing coffee and having a chat with a friend. Work out what it is that makes you feel good and then carve out some time in your day for it – and don’t negotiate on it!

Make that your pledge to yourself and see that time as a gift you’ve given to you. It’ll help you become more resilient in other areas and you’ll find yourself much better off longer term.”  

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