• Self-employed women had more exercise and lower BMIs
  • Certain aspects of self-employment may help explain the difference
  • Employers may want to adopt these aspects, the study's senior researcher said

There are quite a few benefits of being self-employed. For women, being their own boss may also mean better heart health, a study has found.

For their study, published in the journal BMC Women's Health, researchers analyzed data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, involving 4,624 working women. About 16% of them were self-employed, while the rest were employed by someone else, HealthDay reported.

The researchers found that self-employment was "associated with" 34% lower odds of reporting obesity, 43% decreased odds of reporting hypertension, 30% lower odds of reporting diabetes and a 68% increase in reporting participation in physical activity at least twice a week. The Body Mass Index (BMI) of self-employed women was also 1.79 units lower on average compared to the women who work for wages, the researchers noted.

"As predicted, our findings showed that self-employed women had significantly better outcomes for several cardiovascular disease risk factors (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, participation in at least twice-weekly physical activity and BMI) as compared to women employed for wages," the researchers wrote. "Notably, there was a large difference in reported engagement in regular physical activity between the two groups."

The more flexible schedules of the self-employed women may help explain the physical activity gap between the groups, the researchers said. Less stress, coupled with more physical activity, may also be contributing factors to their better outcomes.

The results don't exactly prove that being self-employed leads to better health, HealthDay clarified. The researchers noted some limitations, such as the fact that the outcomes were self-reported and not measured. Furthermore, not all women even want to be self-employed.

It does, however, prompt us to look at the aspects of being self-employed that could be beneficial to women's health — aspects that employers may want to bring to the workplace, a senior researcher in the study, Dr. Kimberly Narain of the University of California, Los Angeles Women's Health Center, said, as per HealthDay.

"Heart disease is the No.1 killer of women, which is something a lot of people are not aware of," she said, according to the outlet. "I'm interested in thinking about how we can change structures, rather than telling women to change."

For instance, having a more flexible daily schedule could help women get in a bit more exercise within the day, Narain said. Simpler changes such as opting for "walk-and-talk" meetings instead of sit-down ones may also help employees squeeze in some physical activity into their schedules, Yana Rodgers of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, said, as per HealthDay. Rodgers was not involved in the study.

"While it is not realistic to expect that all women will become self-employed, it may be worth considering how some of the positive features of self-employment such as increased autonomy and flexibility and less exposure to discrimination may be imported into the wage employment context," the researchers wrote.

"Increasing self-employment among women may be more than an economic or gender-equity issue," they added.

Woman Working, Women, Self-Employed
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