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Exercise: Women may get more health benefits in less time than men



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Researchers say women don’t have to hit the pool or the track as often as men to achieve the same health benefits. microgen/Getty Images
  • Men and women who exercise regularly are less likely to die prematurely of any cause, including a cardiovascular event, compared to those who are sedentary.
  • Researchers also report that women see more pronounced benefits than men from regular exercise.
  • They added that exercise routines should contain both aerobic exercise and strength training.

Most everyone benefits from regular exercise, but women may see bigger cardiovascular benefits than men — and in less time, too, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In their study, researchers looked at a group of 400,000 men and women in the United States over the course of two decades.

They reported that women who exercised regularly were 24% less likely to die from any cause during the study period and also had a 36% lower risk of fatal heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event compared to women who did not exercise regularly.

At the same time, men who exercised regularly were 15% less likely to die and had a 14% lower risk of fatal cardiovascular event compared to sedentary men.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States and can affect women at any age [and it’s] responsible for about one in every five female deaths, but research has shown that only about half (56 percent) of U.S. women recognize that heart disease is their number one killer,” said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a clinical associate professor at the University of Southern California and chief medical advisor for Garage Gym Reviews who was not involved in the study.

“The study shows that women who regularly exercise have a lower chance of premature death and fatal cardiovascular events compared to men who have similar exercise habits, underscoring the importance of getting regular exercise for women’s longevity and highlighting the potential for changing preconceived health outcomes,” Dasgupta told Medical News Today.

So, how much exercise is enough exercise?

For men, the researchers reported that around 300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 110 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week does the trick.

The dose-response relationship of activity to benefit also differed for men and women. For women, at least, it appears a little exercise goes a long way.

The researchers reported that women who engaged in 140 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise weekly saw an 18% reduced death risk while just 57 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise a week produced a 19% reduced death risk.

Men had to exercise twice as much for the same benefit, reaching the 18% mark with 300 minutes of moderate aerobic weekly exercise and the 19% mark with 110 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

“We hope this study will help everyone, especially women, understand they are poised to gain tremendous benefits from exercise,” said Dr. Susan Cheng, a study co-author and a cardiologist and the chair of Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, in a press release. “Women, on average, tend to exercise less than men and hopefully these findings inspire more women to add extra movement to their lives.”

The benefits of regular exercise weren’t limited to aerobics.

Strength training also appeared to have significant benefits and women were once again the bigger beneficiaries.

For instance, women who did regular strength training exercises saw a 19% reduced risk of death while men saw an 11% reduced risk compared to their inactive peers. That also includes a 30% lower risk of a cardiovascular event for women and an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular events for men.

As to why those results might be, it comes down to the differences in men’s and women’s bodies.

“Females exhibit greater vascular conductance and blood flow during exercise, with females having a higher density of capillaries per unit of skeletal muscle when compared with males,” said Dr. Tracy Zaslow, a primary care sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and a team physician for Angel City Football Club and LA Galaxy.

“Accordingly, although females have generally lower muscle strength at baseline, when both males and females undergo strength training, females experience greater relative improvements in strength, which is a stronger predictor of mortality than muscle mass,” Zaslow, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

Zaslow applauded the efforts of the researchers to fine-tune recommendations for exercise and healthy habits between the sexes.

“Current recommendations are agnostic,” she said. “Sex-specific considerations could enhance individual risk assessments and tailored exercise prescriptions in the effort to increase engagement in physical activity.”

Zaslow also provided some tips for women — and men — looking to work more daily exercise into their lives. These include:

  • Start with small amounts of exercise and slowly add more as strength and endurance are built.
  • Find a partner to exercise with to help hold you accountable and make it more enjoyable.
  • If time permits, try walking to do errands instead of driving between stops.
  • Choose the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Listen to music or a fun podcast during workouts.
  • Mix it up! Don’t do the same workout every time. Switch between strength and endurance, and try different activities, such as walking, yoga, hiking, pickleball, and others.
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