Women may need to work out longer and harder to achieve the same health benefits from exercise as their male counterparts, particularly if they struggle with weight and diabetes, according to new research conducted at the University of Missouri.
The finding, published in the journal Metabolism, is among the first to suggest one-size-fits-all exercise guidelines are outmoded. The research also indicates workout programs designed to help women lose weight and boost their heart health need to take into account gender, as well as a person’s overall health, physical condition, and age.
"What this research highlights … is that the advantages we think exercise is going to give individuals may not be the same across genders, particularly for those who have type 2 diabetes," said Jill Kanaley, a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at MU. "This is a concern because there are high mortality rates with type 2 diabetes, especially for women.
“We're trying to find successful interventions to help these individuals, and we keep assuming that exercise will do the trick — we think when we tell people to ‘go train,’ regardless of gender, everyone will get the same results. Our research indicates certain exercises may not be enough for women."
For the study, Kanaley and her colleagues monitored the heart rate and blood pressure of nearly 75 obese men and women with type 2 diabetes in response to exercise. The research included a handgrip test, which involved continually and forcefully squeezing an object for a few minutes, at the beginning and end of a structured, 16-week walking program.
The results showed that while all study participants exercised at about the same speed — about 65 percent of their ability — men realized a far greater benefit from the exercise than women. Over the 16 weeks, women's recovery time after working out did not improve, whereas men's did, indicating their fitness had improved. The men also lost more weight.
The upshot: Obese women with type 2 diabetes might benefit from longer durations or higher intensities of exercise, Kanaley said. Fitness instructors should also pay more attention to how long it takes for women’s cardiovascular function to return to normal after exercise, not just how fast their hearts beat during physical exertion.
"A lot of people focus on how high individuals' heart rates get during exercise, but their recovery rates also should be monitored," Kanaley said.
"When you exercise, you want your blood pressure to rise, but you don't want it to get too high. Your blood pressure should return to normal relatively quickly after you stop exercise. In our study, the recovery rate for women was not as rapid as for men. After the men trained, they got an even better recovery time, whereas women's time stayed about the same."
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