Exercise Yields Greater Benefits for Women Than Men

Summary: A new study reveals that regular exercise significantly reduces the risk of early death and fatal cardiovascular events more in women than in men, despite women generally engaging in less intense physical activity.

Analyzing data from over 400,000 U.S. adults, the research found that women have a 24% lower risk of mortality and a 36% reduced risk of fatal cardiovascular events compared to men’s 15% and 14% reductions, respectively. Highlighting that women achieve similar health benefits as men but in shorter time frames, the study underscores the importance of exercise for health, especially for women, and challenges current physical activity guidelines by demonstrating gender-specific benefits.

The findings aim to motivate more women to incorporate regular physical activity into their lives, recognizing exercise as a powerful tool for enhancing longevity and cardiovascular health.

Key Facts:

  1. Gender-Specific Benefits: Women experience greater reductions in mortality and cardiovascular risks from exercise compared to men, even with less physical effort.
  2. Optimal Exercise Durations: For both genders, the reduced risk of death plateaus at 300 minutes of moderate or 110 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, with women needing less time to achieve significant health benefits.
  3. Low Exercise Compliance: Despite the clear benefits, only a minority of women and men meet the recommended standards for weekly aerobic and strength training exercises.

Source: NIH

Women who exercise regularly have a significantly lower risk of an early death or fatal cardiovascular event than men who exercise regularly, even when women put in less effort, according to a new study.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, are based on a prospective analysis of data from more than 400,000 U.S. adults ages 27–61 which showed that over two decades, women were 24% less likely than those who do not exercise to experience death from any cause, 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.

This shows women exercising.
For all the health benefits of exercise for both groups, however, only 33% of women and 43% of men in the study met the standard for weekly aerobic exercise, while 20% of women and 28% of men completed a weekly strength training session. Credit: Neuroscience News

“We hope this study will help everyone, especially women, understand they are poised to gain tremendous benefits from exercise,” said Susan Cheng, M.D., a cardiologist and the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles.

“It is an incredibly powerful way to live healthier and longer. Women on average tend to exercise less than men and hopefully, these findings inspire more women to add extra movement to their lives.”

The researchers found a link between women experiencing greater reduced risks for death compared to men among all types of exercise. This included moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking; vigorous exercise, such as taking a spinning class or jumping rope; and strength training, which could include body-weight exercises.

Scientists found that for moderate aerobic physical activity, the reduced risk for death plateaued for both men and women at 300 minutes, or five hours, per week. At this level of activity, women and men reduced their risk of premature death by 24% and 18% respectively.

Similar trends were seen with 110 minutes of weekly vigorous aerobic exercise, which correlated with a 24% reduced risk of death for women and a 19% reduced risk for men.

Women also achieved the same benefits as men but in shorter amounts of time. For moderate aerobic exercise, they met the 18% reduced risk mark in half the time needed for men: 140 minutes, or under 2.5 hours, per week, compared to 300 minutes for men. With vigorous aerobic exercise, women met the 19% reduced risk mark with just 57 minutes a week, compared to 110 minutes needed by men.

This benefit applied to weekly strength training exercises, too. Women and men who participated in strength-based exercises had a 19% and 11% reduced risk for death, respectively, compared to those who did not participate in these exercises. Women who did strength training saw an even greater reduced risk of cardiovascular-related deaths—a 30% reduced risk, compared to 11% for men.

For all the health benefits of exercise for both groups, however, only 33% of women and 43% of men in the study met the standard for weekly aerobic exercise, while 20% of women and 28% of men completed a weekly strength training session.

“Even a limited amount of regular exercise can provide a major benefit, and it turns out this is especially true for women,” said Cheng. “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 realize.”

“This study emphasizes that there is no singular approach for exercise,” said Eric J. Shiroma, Sc.D., a program director in the Clinical Applications and Prevention branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). “A person’s physical activity needs and goals may change based on their age, health status, and schedule—but the value of any type of exercise is irrefutable.”

The authors said multiple factors, including variations in anatomy and physiology, may account for the differences in outcomes between the sexes. For example, men often have increased lung capacity, larger hearts, more lean body mass, and a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers compared to women.

As a result, women may use added respiratory, metabolic, and strength demands to conduct the same movement and in turn reap greater health rewards.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 2.5–5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 1.25–2.5 hours of vigorous exercise each week, or a combination of both, and participate in two or more days a week of strength-based activities.

About this exercise and health research news

Author: Susan Cheng
Source: NIH
Contact: Susan Cheng – NIH
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
Sex differences in association of physical activity with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality” by Susan Cheng et al. Journal of the American College of Cardiology


Abstract

Sex differences in association of physical activity with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality

Background

Although physical activity is widely recommended for reducing cardiovascular and all-cause mortality risks, female individuals consistently lag behind male individuals in exercise engagement.

Objectives

The goal of this study was to evaluate whether physical activity derived health benefits may differ by sex.

Methods

In a prospective study of 412,413 U.S. adults (55% female, age 44 ± 17 years) who provided survey data on leisure-time physical activity, we examined sex-specific multivariable-adjusted associations of physical activity measures (frequency, duration, intensity, type) with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality from 1997 through 2019.

Results

During 4,911,178 person-years of follow-up, there were 39,935 all-cause deaths including 11,670 cardiovascular deaths. Regular leisure-time physical activity compared with inactivity was associated with 24% (HR: 0.76; 95% CI: 0.73-0.80) and 15% (HR: 0.85; 95% CI: 0.82-0.89) lower risk of all-cause mortality in women and men, respectively (Wald F = 12.0, sex interaction P < 0.001). Men reached their maximal survival benefit of HR 0.81 from 300 min/wk of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, whereas women achieved similar benefit at 140 min/wk and then continued to reach a maximum survival benefit of HR 0.76 also at ∼300 min/wk. Sex-specific findings were similar for cardiovascular death (Wald F = 20.1, sex interaction P < 0.001) and consistent across all measures of aerobic activity as well as muscle strengthening activity (Wald F = 6.7, sex interaction P = 0.009).

Conclusions

Women compared with men derived greater gains in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk reduction from equivalent doses of leisure-time physical activity. These findings could enhance efforts to close the “gender gap” by motivating especially women to engage in any regular leisure-time physical activity.

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