Physical activity is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle, recommended universally for its myriad benefits, including the reduction of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality risks. Despite this, engagement levels vary significantly, with women consistently participating less in physical activities compared to men. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology delves into the sex-specific benefits of physical activity, providing crucial insights that can help fitness professionals tailor their programmes more effectively.

The primary goal of the study was to evaluate whether the health benefits derived from physical activity differ between sexes. This is crucial as understanding these differences can help bridge the gender gap in physical activity engagement and optimise health outcomes for all individuals.

The Study

The study was a large-scale prospective analysis involving 412,413 U.S. adults, of which 55% were female, with an average age of 44 years. The participants provided survey data on their leisure-time physical activity, detailing the frequency, duration, intensity, and type of exercises performed. The study tracked all-cause and cardiovascular mortality from 1997 through 2019, totalling 4,911,178 person-years of follow-up. During this period, there were 39,935 all-cause deaths, including 11,670 cardiovascular deaths.

Results

Key findings from the study include:

  1. Overall Mortality Risk Reduction:
    • Regular leisure-time physical activity was associated with a 24% reduction in all-cause mortality risk for women and a 15% reduction for men.
    • Women reached their maximal survival benefit with 140 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week, whereas men required 300 minutes per week to achieve similar benefits.
  2. Cardiovascular Mortality:
  3. Muscle-Strengthening Activity:
    • Women showed a significant reduction in all-cause mortality risk from muscle-strengthening activities, even with lower frequencies compared to men.

The study concluded that women derive greater gains in both all-cause and cardiovascular mortality risk reduction from equivalent doses of physical activity compared to men. These findings suggest the need for sex-specific recommendations in physical activity guidelines to motivate especially women to engage more in regular physical activities.

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Implications for Us

As fitness professionals, we can use these insights to design effective and personalised exercise programmes for our clients. Here are specific strategies:

  1. Personalised Exercise Programmes:
    • For Women: Emphasise the significant health benefits achievable with even moderate levels of physical activity. Encourage a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, ensuring that clients understand that lower doses can still yield substantial health benefits.
    • For Men: Encourage aiming for at least 300 minutes of MVPA per week to achieve optimal health benefits. Focus on increasing the intensity and frequency of aerobic activities.
  2. Education and Motivation:
    • Use the study’s findings to educate clients on the specific health benefits of regular physical activity, emphasising the greater relative benefits for women.
    • Motivate clients, especially women, by highlighting the significant reduction in mortality risks with regular exercise.
  3. Goal Setting and Monitoring:
    • Help clients set realistic and measurable exercise goals based on the study’s recommended activity levels.
    • Regularly monitor and adjust exercise programmes to ensure clients are progressing and maintaining their activity levels.
  4. Addressing Barriers to Exercise:
    • Provide strategies for integrating physical activity into daily routines, particularly for clients who face time constraints.
    • Offer a variety of exercise options to keep clients engaged and motivated.
  5. Focus on Health Outcomes:
  6. Community and Support:
    • Encourage participation in group exercises or community fitness programmes to increase motivation and adherence.
    • Build a supportive environment where clients can share their progress and challenges.

By applying these strategies, we can leverage the findings from this study to help our clients achieve better health outcomes through personalised, evidence-based exercise programmes. Understanding the differential benefits of physical activity between sexes can enhance the effectiveness of fitness interventions and contribute to closing the gender gap in physical activity engagement.

Reference

Ji, H., Gulati, M., Huang, T. Y., Kwan, A. C., Ouyang, D., Ebinger, J. E., Casaletto, K., Moreau, K. L., Skali, H., & Cheng, S. (2024). Sex Differences in Association of Physical Activity With All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 83(8), 783-793. Click here to review the full research article

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