Women Can Exercise Less Than Men While Benefiting More

Men need to exercise more than women do to see the same level of health benefits, a new national study has found.

Women who exercise regularly experience greater health benefits than men who exercise the same amount, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology Monday.

The large study found that women who exercised regularly (defined as at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week) faced a 24% lower overall risk of death during the study period than women who didn’t exercise. In comparison, men who did the exact same amount of exercise were only 15% less likely to die than men who were sedentary.

The study also found that while men need 300 minutes of exercise each week to reduce their risk of dying by 18%, women only need 140 minutes of weekly exercise to experience that same risk reduction.

“Although physical activity is widely recommended for reducing cardiovascular and all-cause mortality risks, female individuals consistently lag behind male individuals in exercise engagement,” the study authors wrote. “The goal of this study was to evaluate whether physical activity derived health benefits may differ by sex.”

The researchers conducted the study using survey responses from 412,413 participants of the National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2017. Of the total participants, 32.5% of women and 43.1% of men said they regularly engaged in cardio workouts, which reduced their risk of death from cardiovascular issues specifically by 36% and 14%, respectively.

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

Meanwhile, a total of 19.9% of women and 27.8% of men reported engaging in regular muscle strengthening. Men who engaged in regular strength training reduced their overall mortality risk by 11%, the study found, while women faced a mortality risk reduction of 19%. That number increased to 30% for women when looking at the risk of dying from cardiovascular problems specifically, while it remained at 11% for men.

The researchers note that while current exercise recommendations are the same for all sexes (the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes per week for all adults), their findings suggest that sex-specific suggestions could be more beneficial and motivating, particularly for women.

The authors hope the results will encourage more women to exercise regularly by demonstrating the extreme benefits they can experience even by working out for short periods of time.

They wrote, “Our results from this large representative population study not only highlight a sex differential response in health benefits from physical activity but suggest that women stand to especially gain in reduction of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality risk."


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