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Women achieve greater benefits from exercise with less effort

Women can attain the same, if not greater, health benefits from exercise as men, but with considerably less effort. This is the conclusion of a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC).

The research sheds light on the efficiency of women’s bodies in responding to exercise. It also offers a new perspective on fitness and gender-specific health guidelines.

Focus of the study 

The researchers analyzed data from 412,413 adults collected through the National Health Interview Survey database, spanning from 1997 to 2019. 

With a participant pool that was 55% female, the experts sought to understand how different genders experience the effects of exercise. The study was focused on parameters such as frequency, duration, intensity, and type of physical activity.

Women get more out of each minute of exercise 

Study co-lead author Dr. Martha Gulati is an expert in the Department of Cardiology at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute.

“Women have historically and statistically lagged behind men in engaging in meaningful exercise,” said Dr. Gulati. “The beauty of this study is learning that women can get more out of each minute of moderate to vigorous activity than men do. It’s an incentivizing notion that we hope women will take to heart.”

Mortality risk

The study’s findings are particularly compelling in the context of mortality risk and physical activity.

“For all adults engaging in any regular physical activity, compared to being inactive, mortality risk was expectedly lower,” said study senior author Dr. Susan Cheng. “Intriguingly, though, mortality risk was reduced by 24% in women and 15% in men.”

The discrepancy in mortality risk underscores the enhanced benefit that women receive from physical activity. This revelation that could potentially revolutionize public health recommendations.

Maximum survival benefit 

The researchers found that men required approximately five hours per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, to reach maximal survival benefit. By contrast, women achieved the same benefit with just under 2 ½ hours per week. 

For muscle-strengthening activities, like weight lifting or core exercises, men peaked at three sessions per week. Meanwhile, women gained comparable benefits from roughly one session per week.

According to Dr. Cheng, women had even greater gains if they engaged in more than 2 ½ hours per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. 

Broader implications 

The researchers noted that their findings help to translate a longstanding recognition of sex-specific physiology seen in the exercise lab to a now-expanded view of sex differences in outcomes.

Dr. Gulati said there is power in recommendations based on the study’s findings. “Men get a maximal survival benefit when performing 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, whereas women get the same benefit from 140 minutes per week. Nonetheless, women continue to get further benefit for up to 300 minutes a week.”

Dr. Christine M. Albert emphasized that concrete, novel studies like this don’t happen often. “I am hopeful that this pioneering research will motivate women who are not currently engaged in regular physical activity to understand that they are in a position to gain tremendous benefit for each increment of regular exercise they are able to invest in their longer-term health.”

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