Breasts are barrier to exercise

Researcher Emma Burnett

Nearly one in five women say their breasts stop them from participating in physical activity, new research reveals.

The research also found that physical activity levels weren’t influenced by breast size, which suggests the breast could be a barrier to exercise for women across all bra sizes.

Emma Burnett from the University of Portsmouth’s Research Group in Breast Health conducted the study, which is published online in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

Miss Burnett found that breasts were ranked fourth as a barrier to exercise after lack of energy, time constraints and health reasons. They were ranked above other barriers including cost of exercise, access to facilities, not having the right clothing, not having any company whilst exercising, and feeling embarrassed about doing sport.

The research found that 17 per cent of the 239 women surveyed were discouraged from participating in physical activity because of their breasts.

The most influential factors preventing women from taking exercise include not being able to find the right sports bra and being embarrassed by excessive breast movement.

Miss Burnett said: “This latest research is crucial because it shows that breasts are an important factor to consider when investigating what deters women from exercising. One third of women in the study were not meeting physical activity guidelines, but improving breast health awareness may help to encourage participation for these women.

“We had plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that breasts are a barrier to exercise but this is the first study to provide evidence that they’re affecting women’s participation in sport.

“I expected the findings to show that breasts are a barrier but I was quite surprised at the percentage – it was higher than I thought.”

Breasts are barrier to exercise

Miss Burnett hopes the research will help educate women about breast health awareness and encourage them to get active. She’d also like bra manufacturers to take note that some women struggle to find the right sports bra.

The survey of women from Portsmouth, Southampton and the surrounding areas found that women who know more about breast health were more likely to participate in physical activity and were more likely to wear a sports bra. Those with lower awareness were not as active.

She said: “Women who aren’t aware of the benefits of wearing a sports bra when exercising are those who exercise in the wrong kind of bra and then experience pain. This pain means they stop exercising, which is a shame because if they knew the difference a good sports bra can make, I’m confident they would have a more positive experience of taking part in physical activity.”

Professor Joanna Scurr, who leads the Research Group in Breast Health, said that if women don’t wear the right sports bra they risk damaging the fragile Cooper’s ligaments which, once damaged, are irreparable.

Professor Scurr said: “When the breasts are not supported appropriately and there is tension on the ligaments and skin of the breast, it can result in strain and over time this may lead to a stretching of the breasts natural support, which could lead to permanent breast damage.”

The Research Group is currently recruiting for female volunteers to participate in a new study investigating breast pain. If you are interested in finding out more please contact:


5 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. Interesting research – I too am conscious about my breasts when exercising. Though there were a number of women taking part in this years staff sports day (me included) – it may be interesting to discuss these ideas with them, particularly when it comes to ‘doing out best’ on the track. Would worrying about breast movement have an impact on the level of engagement in activity?

    • Thank you for your comment, ‘being embarrassed about excessive breast motion’ was something I assessed within this paper and it was the second highest rated breast-related reason for reducing activity levels after ‘not being able to find the right sports bra’. So yes I do think this has an impact on engagement.

      I also took part in sports day and maybe getting the opinion from the participating female staff would be something to look in to for some future research.

  2. Hahaha, my wife complains about this all the time.

  3. It does. I had it interfere with my activities in gym back when I was in School because my bosom kept getting in the way of everything I did.Marcy

  4. really there is no size that is right. Your body just grows the way it wants. I would say that you probably look fine and are very good agerave size from what you are explaining. I am only a 34c but am really skinny and only 5’4 so it makes me look like i have huge boobs. I would never consider surgery. god wanted you to be that way. I think you should just be happy with your boobs and know that you are beautiful the way you are:) Was this answer helpful?

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