Enlarge image

Woman on sports field (symbolic image)

Photo: Corey Jenkins / Image Source / IMAGO

Sport is good for your health – that is undisputed. But how big is the difference between the genders when it comes to the positive effect? A large-scale study investigated this question. Results have now been presented.

Women therefore have to do significantly less exercise in order to achieve the same health benefits as men. This is the result of the US-Chinese study with more than 400,000 people over the period from 1997 to 2019.

Men achieved a maximum reduction in the risk of death if they did around 300 minutes of physical exercise per week. Women only needed 140 minutes to do this, as the group led by Martha Gulati from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles (US state of California) and Hongwei Ji from Tsinghua University in Beijing reported in the specialist magazine “Journal of the American College of Cardiology” (» JACC«) writes.

»The study is not intended to suggest women to exercise less. Instead, it shows women who don't do enough exercise that even relatively few workouts can have a positive effect," Ji is quoted as saying in a statement from her institution.

The researchers wanted to know what effects sport has on health and used a nationwide database, the “National Health Interview Survey”.

The risk of death decreases significantly through exercise

The 412,413 adults selected from this, 55 percent of whom were women, provided information in the survey using a questionnaire about the type and extent of their sporting activity per week. In the more than 20-year study period, almost 40,000 participants died, including 11,670 from cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers now determined to what extent the risk of death decreased through sport. Regular sporting activity in leisure time reduced this risk by an average of 15 percent for men and 24 percent for women - in each case compared to people who did not do any sport.

With regard to cardiovascular diseases, the reduction through exercise was 14 percent for men and 36 percent for women. The difference was similarly large for sports exercises that strengthen the muscles: Regular strength training reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases by 11 percent in men and by 30 percent in women.

When men exercised very intensively for 110 minutes per week, their risk of death fell by 19 percent. Women reached this value after just 57 minutes of intensive training. "The beauty of this study is that women can get more out of every minute of moderate to vigorous activity than men," says Gulati.

When announcing the numbers, the researchers emphasized that they were based on self-reports from the participants. In addition, physical activity was not taken into account in the household.