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Women can exercise less often than men and still see greater health benefits, new study shows

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Women may see greater health benefits from exercising regularly than men do, according to a recent study.

Women who engaged in 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, weekly were 24% less likely to die when compared to women who didn’t exercise regularly within that same time period, according to the paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In contrast, men who exercised for the same amount of time each week had only a 15% lower chance of dying than those who didn’t.

The study analyzed data of over 400,000 U.S. adults that spanned from 1997 to 2017. The exercise habits of those individuals were self-reported.

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Researchers also found that women were able to see greater health benefits with less exercise than their male counterparts.

Men who engaged in about five hours of moderate to vigorous exercise each week lowered their chances of dying by 18% in comparison to men who didn’t. Women were able to see the same reduction in their risk of death with only about 2.5 hours of the same level of exercise.

“I think what this study shows is that there is something to it, and this study helps open up doors for very specific research to understand why there is a difference,” according to Dr. Beteal Ashinne, a non-invasive cardiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine at UHealth, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The reason why women may have stronger benefits from regular exercise than men isn’t clear, though it’s possible it boils down to differences in anatomy, the study’s researchers told CBS News.

“They noted that men on average have proportionately larger hearts, wider lung airways, greater lung diffusion capacity and larger muscle fibers than women,” the publication wrote.

But there are some limitations to the study that people should keep in mind.

The study was observational, so researchers can’t confirm without a doubt that the lower risk of mortality was as a result of exercise. It also doesn’t consider lifestyle habits like eating choices or tobacco and alcohol use, says Dr. Nadish Garg, a cardiologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston who wasn’t involved in the study.

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Exercising regularly is great for heart health in general

“I think the big message is physical activity helps to reduce cardiovascular mortality, period,” Garg tells CNBC Make It.

Garg and Ashinne emphasize that the biggest takeaway from the findings should be just how important it is to fit exercise into your weekly routine for optimal health.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggests that Americans get at least 2.5 to 5 hours per week of moderate physical activity, 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of vigorous physical activity or an equal amount of both, according to its 2018 physical activity guidelines.

These are the best exercises for heart health that Garg and Ashinne recommend:

  • Aerobic exercises like running, biking, dancing or swimming
  • Strength-training, which can include weight-lifting, push-ups and bodyweight squats

“It doesn’t have to be that they have to be on a treadmill all the time,” Garg says. “Whatever exercise they enjoy, and will reasonably increase their heart rate, is perhaps the best way to do it, because then they will [do it]. If they enjoy the activity, then they keep doing it.”

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Source: CNBC

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