The study was conducted by researchers from the Kansas State University. While many studies have focused on how working women find it difficult to juggle their personal and professional life, this is the first study that highlights that men face similar barriers - family responsibilities, guilt, lack of support, lack of time, scheduling constraints and work and no time to exercise.
"A decline or lack of exercise among working parents has mostly been recognized as a female issue," Emily Mailey, assistant professor of kinesiology, said in a press statement. "The ethic of care theory -- that females have been socialized to meet everyone else's needs before their own -- explains why women feel guilty when they take time to exercise, though the same principle hasn't been studied for fathers." In the study, working mothers and fathers participated in focus groups about the barriers they encounter to a consistent exercise routine. The top barriers for moms and dads were lack of time and guilt.
"The guilt parents feel is because they think of exercise as a selfish behavior," Mailey said. "Fathers reported guilt related to family and taking time for themselves, whereas mothers reported guilt related to family, taking time for themselves and work."
Fathers, more than mothers, felt that their children were a barrier to maintaining an exercise program.
Men also felt that family-related guilt was associated with time away from their wives and children, while mothers' guilt was associated with time away from their children.
"Fathers mentioned feeling guilty about not spending time with their spouses," Mailey said. "That really didn't come up for the women. The men felt guilty about exercising after the kids go to bed because that would be time they could spend with their wives."
The study also found that working mothers faced more hurdles and thought that work and scheduling constraints were bigger barriers than men.
"A lot of active dads were taking time during the lunch hour or during the workday to exercise," Mailey said. "Moms felt more guilt for taking time out of the workday to the extent that most weren't doing it. If moms were active, they were exercising first thing in the morning."
"Regardless of their activity levels, parents view their families as the top priority," Mailey said. "Active parents were able to see exercise as something that contributed to the good of the family and that was not at odds with being good parents. As a result, they felt less guilty about taking time to exercise and were more apt to prioritize physical activity because they valued the benefits."
The study titled "Physical activity barriers and facilitators among working mothers and fathers" was published in BioMed Central Public Health, a peer-reviewed journal. The project was funded in part by the Kansas State University Open Access Publishing Fund.