Women Get More Health Gains From Exercise Compared to Men

By   |  February 20, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

MONDAY, Feb. 19, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- There's good news for females who think that men shed pounds faster than women do: New research shows women get more health benefits from exercise than men, even if they put in less effort.

When exercising regularly, women’s risk of an early death or fatal heart event drops more than that of men who work out, researchers found.

Over two decades, physically active women were 24% less likely to die from any cause and 36% less likely to die from a heart attack, stroke or other heart event, compared to women who don’t exercise.

By comparison, men who worked out regularly had a 15% lower risk of early death and a 14% reduced risk of a heart-related death compared to their couch-potato peers.

“We hope this study will help everyone, especially women, understand they are poised to gain tremendous benefits from exercise,” said researcher Dr. Susan Cheng, chair of women’s cardiovascular health and population science in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

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

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 400,000 U.S. adults between the ages of 27 and 61.

The data showed that all types of exercise benefit women more than men, including:

  • Moderate aerobic activity, like brisk walking or yard work

  • Vigorous exercise, like running, taking a spin class or jumping rope

  • Strength training, including free weights, weight machines and body-weight exercises

For both sexes, moderate physical activity produced a reduced risk of death that plateaued around five hours a week. At that level, women and men reduced their risk of early death by 24% and 18%, respectively.

Similarly, 110 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic exercise correlated with a 24% reduced risk of death in women and 19% in men.

And weekly strength training provided women and men a 19% and 11% reduced risk of early death and a 30% and 11% reduced risk of heart-related death, respectively.

However, women also achieved the same health benefits as men with shorter amounts of exercise, results show.

With moderate aerobic exercise, women hit the 18% reduced risk mark in half the time needed for men -- 140 minutes weekly, or under 2.5 hours, compared to 5 hours for men.

The same held for vigorous aerobic exercise. Women met the 19% reduced risk mark with just 57 minutes a week, compared to 110 minutes needed by men.

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

Variations in anatomy and physiology might account for these differences in benefit, the researchers said.

For example, men often have increased lung capacity, larger hearts, more lean-body mass and a greater proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers than women.

As a result, women have to work harder when they exercise, as the same movement makes greater demands on female than male bodies. As a result, they reap greater health rewards.

Unfortunately, not many women or men worked out enough to achieve the maximum benefits observed in the study.

Among the participants, only 33% of women and 43% of men met the standard for weekly aerobic exercise, and just 20% of women and 28% of men completed a weekly strength training session.

The findings were published Feb. 19 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“This study emphasizes that there is no singular approach for exercise,” said Eric Shiroma, 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,” Shiroma said in an NHLBI news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the benefits of physical activity.

SOURCE: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, news release, Feb. 19, 2024