Women benefit more from regular exercise than men – research

Women who exercise regularly have a significantly lower risk of an early death from heart attacks or other events compared to men – even when they put in less effort, a study suggests.

Data from more than 400,000 US adults spanning two decades has shown women who engaged in physical activity were 24% less likely to experience death from any cause, compared to those who did not, while men were 15% less likely.

Women also had a 36% reduced risk for a fatal heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event, while men had a 14% reduced risk, the researchers said.

They also achieved the same exercise benefits as men, but with shorter amounts of time.

The researchers speculate there may be a few reasons for these differences in outcomes, one of them being variations in anatomy and physiology.

For example, the team said, men generally have increased lung capacity, larger hearts, more lean-body mass, and a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibres – which generate high levels of force and power – compared to women.

Hence, women often put in more effort to perform the same level of exercise as men.

Martha Gulati, of the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in California, said: “Women have historically and statistically lagged behind men in engaging in meaningful exercise.

“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 incentivising notion that we hope women will take to heart.”

The researchers found that exercising – whether it was moderate such as brisk walking, vigorous such as going on a spin class or jumping rope or even strength training with weights – reduced the risk of early death in both men and women.

However, the team also found the reduced risk for death plateaued for both men (24%) and women (18%) when they reached 300 minutes, or five hours, of moderate physical activity per week.

Similar trends were seen with 110 minutes of weekly vigorous exercise, the researchers said, showing a 24% reduced risk of death for women and a 19% reduced risk for men.

Women were also found to get the same health benefit from exercise as men, but with less time.

When women spent 140 minutes on moderate exercise every week, their risk of death was reduced by 18%, compared to 300 minutes for men.

Women also reduced the risk of death by 19% when performing vigorous exercise for just 57 minutes a week, compared to 110 minutes needed by men.

And those who did strength training saw a 30% reduced risk of heart-related deaths, compared to 11% for men.

Dr Susan Cheng, a cardiologist at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, said: “Even a limited amount of regular exercise can provide a major benefit, and it turns out this is especially true for women.

“Taking some regular time out for exercise, even if it’s just 20-30 minutes of vigorous exercise a few times each week, can offer a lot more gain than they may realise.”

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