Recent research conducted by the Schmidt Heart Institute in California has shed light on the surprising differences between men and women when it comes to the amount of physical activity needed for optimal health. Contrary to popular belief, women may not need to dedicate as much time as men to staying fit and healthy. The study, which tracked over 400,000 adults in the United States from 1997 to 2019, found that female individuals actually gain greater long-term health benefits from the same dose of physical activity compared to their male counterparts.

One of the most significant findings of the study was that women who engaged in at least some physical activity each week, even at lower levels than men, lowered their risk of dying from any cause by up to 24 percent. In contrast, regular physical activity was only linked to a 15 percent reduction in all-cause mortality for men. This highlights the importance of tailored physical activity recommendations based on sex differences.

The study also revealed that male and female individuals require different doses of regular muscle strengthening and cardiovascular exercise to reap the full benefits of physical activity. For example, male participants reached their maximal survival benefit after five hours of cardio per week, while female participants achieved the same benefits with just over two hours of moderate to vigorous cardio. Similarly, males reached their peak survival benefit after three weightlifting or core body work sessions per week, whereas females needed only one session.

Researchers are still exploring the reasons behind these sex differences in the health benefits of physical activity. One hypothesis is that women may have less lean body mass, which could lead to a higher capacity for blood vessels to expand during exercise. Additionally, female individuals exhibit greater vascular conductance and blood flow during exercise, suggesting that their cardiovascular system may respond differently to physical activity compared to males.

These findings have important implications for public health recommendations regarding physical exercise. While there is often a gender gap in leisure-time exercise, it may not be as significant of a problem as previously thought. Physiologist Emmanuel Stamatakis highlighted that women’s mortality risk is more steeply reduced for any given amount or frequency of exercise, indicating that the effort women exert during physical tasks may be higher than that of men.

The study conducted by the Schmidt Heart Institute challenges existing norms and highlights the need for personalized approaches to physical health. As more research is conducted to confirm these sex differences and explore the underlying reasons, it is becoming increasingly clear that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to physical activity recommendations may not be sufficient. By recognizing and accommodating the unique needs of male and female individuals, we can pave the way for a healthier future for all.


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