Exercise Yields Greater Health Gains for Women, Study Finds

Rachel Lee

Written by Rachel Lee


The benefits of regular exercise are universally acknowledged, but recent research underscores a compelling nuance; the impact of exercise on health outcomes presents significant differences between men and women. Studies indicate that not only does regular physical activity reduce the risk of premature death and cardiovascular events, but women experience these benefits more pronouncedly than men.

The Long-Term Study: A Window Into Exercise Benefits for Men and Women

A comprehensive study that spanned two decades and involved 400,000 U.S. adults has shed light on the remarkable difference exercise can make in longevity and cardiovascular health. The findings are striking: women who maintained regular exercise routines enjoyed a 24% lower risk of death from any cause and a 36% lower risk of fatal cardiovascular events. Men, while also benefiting significantly, had a 15% reduced risk of death and were 14% less likely to suffer fatal cardiovascular events.

This wide-reaching research confirms that heart disease, which remains the leading cause of death among women in the U.S., can be combatted with consistent physical activity. Yet, despite the proven danger, only about half of U.S. women recognize heart disease as their top health threat. This disconnect highlights the critical need for increased awareness and proactive measures in women’s heart health.

The Optimal Exercise Prescription

Conventional wisdom suggests around 300 minutes of moderate or 110 minutes of vigorous activity per week for men to reap health benefits. However, for women, the study suggests they can achieve significant health improvements with less—about 140 minutes of moderate or 57 minutes of vigorous activity weekly. This revelation could be the key to encouraging more women to engage in exercise by setting attainable goals that fit into their lifestyles.

Strength training emerges as a particularly beneficial form of exercise, especially for women. The study found that women benefit more from strength training than men, with a 19% reduced risk of death for women, versus an 11% risk reduction for men. Moreover, the risk of cardiovascular events dropped by 30% for women engaged in regular strength training, compared to an 11% reduction for men. These disparities may be rooted in biological differences, such as women’s greater vascular conductance and capillary density, which could account for their more significant health gains.

Biological Underpinnings of Exercise Efficacy

One explanation for the gender discrepancies in exercise benefits could be that women typically see greater relative improvements in strength from strength training, which is a known predictor of mortality. Recognizing these differences, it becomes clear that exercise recommendations could be more effective if tailored by sex. Such an approach would optimize health benefits for each gender by considering their unique physiological responses to exercise.

Incorporating Exercise Into Daily Life

Understanding the importance of exercise is one thing, but incorporating it into daily routines is another. For many, the challenge lies in taking the first step. Tips for easing into a more active lifestyle include starting with small, manageable activities, finding a workout partner for motivation, opting for walks for short errands, taking the stairs, and making workouts enjoyable by listening to music or podcasts. Diversifying activities can also keep the exercise regimen engaging and sustainable, ensuring long-term adherence and health benefits.

Empowering Women Through Exercise

The evidence is clear: women have much to gain from regular physical activity, particularly when it includes strength training. With heart disease being a top killer and many women underestimating its threat, there’s an urgent need to reframe exercise as a non-negotiable pillar of health. By setting realistic goals, advocating for awareness, and embracing a gender-specific approach to exercise prescriptions, we can empower women to take control of their heart health and overall well-being. The hope is that these study findings will inspire not just women, but everyone, to lead a more active life for a healthier future.