Study Shows Women Can Achieve Greater Cardiovascular Benefits from Exercise than Men

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In a groundbreaking study conducted by Cedars-Sinai’s Smidt Heart Institute, researchers have uncovered a significant gender gap when it comes to the benefits of exercise, revealing that women can achieve greater cardiovascular benefits with less physical activity compared to men.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), these findings shed new light on the relationship between exercise and heart health, particularly for women.

Dr. Martha Gulati, the director of Preventive Cardiology in the Department of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai and co-lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of this discovery.

She stated, “Women have historically and statistically lagged behind men in engaging in meaningful exercise. The beauty of this study is learning that women can get more out of each minute of moderate to vigorous activity than men do. It’s an incentivizing notion that we hope women will take to heart.”

Cardiovascular Benefits From Exercise

The study analyzed data from 412,413 U.S. adults collected from the National Health Interview Survey database spanning from 1997 to 2019. Among the participants, 55% were female, providing crucial insights into leisure-time physical activity.

By examining gender-specific outcomes related to frequency, duration, intensity, and type of physical activity, researchers uncovered significant differences in exercise-related cardiovascular benefits between men and women.

Dr. Susan Cheng, the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science and senior author of the study, highlighted the key findings.

“For all adults engaging in any regular physical activity, compared to being inactive, mortality risk was expectedly lower,” she explained. “Intriguingly, though, mortality risk was reduced by 24% in women and 15% in men.”

Further analysis revealed that men and women reached their maximal survival benefit from different levels of exercise.

While men benefited most from about five hours per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity and three sessions per week of muscle-strengthening activity, women achieved the same degree of benefit with significantly less exercise—approximately 2 1/2 hours per week of aerobic activity and one session per week of muscle-strengthening exercises.

Dr. Christine M. Albert, chair of the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute, emphasized the importance of these findings for women’s health.

“I am hopeful that this pioneering research will motivate women who are not currently engaged in regular physical activity to understand that they are in a position to gain tremendous benefit for each increment of regular exercise they are able to invest in their longer-term health,” she said.

The study’s authors underscored the significance of incorporating these findings into exercise recommendations for women, noting that even small amounts of exercise can yield substantial cardiovascular benefits. With this research, healthcare professionals can better tailor exercise prescriptions to women, ultimately improving heart health outcomes for this population.


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