Women see greater benefits to their health with exercise than men, a new study suggests

The same amount of time and effort put into exercise, women had more to gain than men.Picture: Logan Weaver/Unsplash

The same amount of time and effort put into exercise, women had more to gain than men.Picture: Logan Weaver/Unsplash

Published Feb 27, 2024


Have you ever thought about how exercise affects men and women differently? Well, a recent study has shed some light on the topic, and the findings are quite fascinating.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, revealed that women might actually benefit more from exercise than men.

Dr Susan Cheng, the senior study author and director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging at Cedars-Sinai, explained that women needed less exercise to gain the same benefits as men.

In other words, for the same amount of time and effort put into exercise, women had more to gain than men.

Cheng also highlighted that most adults were not meeting the recommended amounts of exercise, which is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity per week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. It's a gentle reminder for all of us to prioritise our physical well-being.

The study involved over 400 000 US adults, and the results were quite eye-opening. It showed that women who exercised for at least 150 minutes a week were 24% less likely to die from any cause, while men who met the same exercise threshold were 15% less likely to face mortality.

The data has revealed that women tend to exercise less frequently than men. Picture: Kelly Sikkema /Unsplash

Women were also 36% less likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event if they exercised, compared to a 14% reduced risk in men who exercised, the study found.

The study revealed that while men needed 300 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity to see their biggest reduction in the risk of death, women experienced the same benefit at just 140 minutes a week.

What's even more impressive is that women's risk continued to decrease as they increased their physical activity by up to 300 minutes a week.

It's important to note that this study was observational, meaning that it can only show a correlation between exercise and the risk of death.

Researchers cannot definitively say that exercise is causing the lowered risk. However, the study did examine both aerobic activity and muscle strengthening at different intensities, providing valuable insights into the potential benefits of exercise.

Dr Andrew Freeman, the director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, emphasised the reliability of the study's results.

He highlighted that this study added to a growing body of evidence demonstrating the differences in men's and women's responses to exercise, and the crucial role of regular physical activity in promoting good health and well-being.

Freeman likened the benefits of regular physical activity to a powerful medicine, stating: "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.

“And the truth is, it exists. It's just not in a pill form – it's sweat equity."

Why was such a difference in the benefits of exercise for men and women?

The data has revealed that women tend to exercise less frequently than men, according to Cheng. This suggests that when women exercise, they may actually experience greater benefits.

Cheng also pointed out that social and societal norms have historically encouraged more physical activity among males than females, both in childhood and adulthood. While there are some changing trends, this difference in the organisation of sports activities still persists.

Additionally, physiological differences play a role in this disparity. Studies have shown that women are more likely to make faster and bigger gains in muscular strength when they work out compared to men.

As a result of these physiological differences, Freeman stressed the importance of tailoring treatment and discussions accordingly.

He highlighted the significance of personalised medicine based on factors such as sex, size and ethnicity. He stressed the growing importance of considering these individual differences in medical care.

While the exact reasons behind these differences are not fully understood, Freeman acknowledged the undeniable truth that women might experience greater gains from exercise. Understanding the specific reasons behind this disparity may require further research.

Eat plants, exercise, stress less, love more and sleep

“The irony is that exercise is free. The catch, of course, is that exercise takes work,” said Cheng.

But the good news was that any exercise was better than none, and even a limited amount could have major benefits, she said.