women exercising

A new study found that the benefits of exercise are great for everyone but may be even better for women. Many studies have shown that any amount of physical activity helps to reduce the risk of premature death, but a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that women needed less exercise to gain the same benefits as men, said senior study author Dr. Susan Cheng, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai.

Cheng, who is also a professor of cardiology at Cedars Sinai, said, “Put another way, for a given amount of time and effort put into exercise, women had more to gain than men.” Most adults aren’t meeting the recommended amounts of exercise, Cheng added. Adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity a week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. In this study, more than 400,000 US adults ages 27 to 61 reported their exercise levels in a survey every few years from the National Center for Health Statistics from 1997 to 2019.

Researchers then used the National Death Index records from the two years after the survey period to track mortality from all causes and, specifically, cardiovascular-related illness. Nearly 40,000 people in the survey died during that period, and 11,670 of those were cardiovascular deaths, the study said. Over that time, women who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week were 24 percent less likely to die from any cause than women who exercised less than that amount.

Men who exercised for at least 150 minutes each week were 15 percent less likely to die than other men who did not reach that threshold, the data showed. Women were also 36 percent less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event if they exercised, compared to a 14 percent reduced risk in men who exercised. Whereas men needed 300 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity to see their most significant reduction in risk of death, women saw the same benefit at 140 minutes a week – and their risk kept getting lower as they went up to 300 minutes a week, the study showed.

This study was observational, meaning that while the data can only show a correlation between exercise and risk for death, researchers can’t say that the exercise is causing the lowered risk. It did, however, look at both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening at different intensities, Cheng said. The results of the latest study are reliable and add to a body of evidence showing the differences in men’s and women’s results with exercise and the importance of regular physical activity to good health and well-being, said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.

Physical activity is a treatment not enough people utilize, and too few doctors prioritize, he added. Freeman was not involved in the study. “If I said to a patient, ‘Hey, I have a medicine that you can take every day that will not only help to prevent heart disease, heart attacks, cancer, memory loss, dementia, but it will improve your mood,’ people would be going nuts for it,” Freeman said. “And the truth is, it exists. It’s just not in a pill form – it’s sweat equity.”

Whether you are working your way up or looking to maximize your existing routine, Freeman recommends aiming for a minimum of 30 minutes a day of brisk, breathless activity – after you have checked with your doctor, of course.

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