Why exercise feels better for women than for men

Why exercise feels better for women than for men

The beneficial effect of sport is more evident in women than in men with respect to the risk of cardiovascular mortality. Even small physical activities can produce better results for them than for their peers. For example, women who walked briskly five times a week reduced their risk of premature death by 24%, compared to 18% for men.

These data appear in a study on the relationship between sports and mortality due to cardiovascular issues from a gender perspective carried out by Chinese and American universities published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), directed by the Spanish doctor Valentín Fuster. The experts consulted data from 412,413 American adults collected in the national health survey between 1997 and 2019.

The results insist on finding significant differences between the two sexes. In addition to the different rates of premature death, the study also found that women need less training time than men to achieve the same results regarding health and disease prevention. To achieve the so-called ‘survival benefit’ – when the effect of sport begins to appear – the male sex needs “300 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous exercise.” Investing that time means reducing the risk of death by 18% compared to inactive men.

But in the case of women, the dedication to sport to achieve the same results is significantly less. According to the study published by the JACC, women only need 140 minutes of weekly training for their mortality risk to be reduced by 18%. If they did the same amount of sport as men, the risk of suffering premature death drops by 24%.

But there is another significant difference between the two sexes when it comes to assessing the effect of practicing sports. To achieve preventive benefits, the men had to perform three muscle strengthening sessions per week. In the case of women, a single session of strength exercises was enough to achieve the same results.

Again, the need to dedicate time to sports for cardiovascular health reasons decreases in their case. From a generic point of view, performing strength exercises led to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease of 11% in men and 19% in women. If women performed the same volume of strength exercises as men (three days a week) they would double their physical improvements compared to the other gender.

Greater muscle mass

The explanation for this change is biological. According to one of the authors of the study – Martha Gulati, from the Department of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles – the fact that men have greater muscle mass and also body mass means that they need a greater dose of exercise to activate everything. the body. This greater training requirement not only refers to the intensity, but also to the duration of physical work.

Women, for their part, have a greater density of capillaries in relation to the musculoskeletal system. This fact favors the production of results more quickly. This circumstance also means that women experience greater relative improvements in strength, a value that is considered a more important predictor of mortality – the more strength, the less risk – than muscle mass.

One of the objectives of this study was, according to its authors, to help reduce the “gender gap” between men and women with respect to sport. According to the authors’ argument, the fact that the benefits are perceived to be easier for women to achieve may encourage them to practice training to improve their health.

Gender gap

This gender gap, however, is becoming smaller in Spain, although there is still a difference between men and women when it comes to physical activity. According to the latest survey by the Higher Sports Council, published in 2022, 63.1% of men do some type of sport, compared to 51.8% of women. This difference of 11.3 points represents a decrease compared to the last survey, in 2015, in which the variation was 12.3%.

But these data also show a hopeful trend, according to data from the Higher Sports Council, that 51.8% of women doing sports marks a milestone, since it is the first time in which the percentage of them who do some type of sport surpasses those who do not carry out any activity of this type.

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