Women "poised to gain tremendous benefits" as new research reveals they get more out of exercise than men

Woman running on hill at sunrise
The newly published research looks at 20 years of data in the US (Image credit: Westend61 / Getty Images)

Whether you're seeking summits in your hiking boots, racing across country in your trail running shoes, lifting weights at the gym or sending it at the climbing wall, we all know that exercise is good for us, but new research suggests that women benefit from regular movement even more than men.

The newly published findings supported by the National Institutes of Health involve an observational study which examined two decades worth of data on the link between exercise and reduced risk of death. Researchers looked at studies on 400,000 US adults ages 27 - 61 which revealed that over 20 years, women who exercised were 24 percent less likely to experience death from any cause than those who do not exercise. Meanwhile, while men were just 15 percent less likely to reduce their risk of death. 

The study finds that women reduced their risk of a fatal heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event by 36 percent through regular exercise, while men reduced theirs by 14 percent. 

“We hope this study will help everyone, especially women, understand they are poised to gain tremendous benefits from exercise,” says cardiologist Susan Cheng, M.D. in the report.

The study shows that these health benefits exist regardless of what type of exercise you're doing, be it brisk walking, taking a spin class or resistance training, however when it comes to duration of exercise, there is a point where you no longer reap increasing gains. While the World Health Organization recommends all adults get a minimum of 150 minutes a week, the authors of the study noted that at 300 minutes per week, the benefits plateau. Doing too much can also result in overtraining syndrome, which then negates the benefits.

Three woman at the gym doing squat jumps

Women can achieve the same benefits of exercise as men but in less time (Image credit: AleksandarGeorgiev)

If you find it hard to fit exercise in with your busy schedule, there's some good news for women, who can achieve the same benefits of exercise as men but in less time. A woman who is undertaking moderate aerobic exercise can reportedly reduce their risk of death by 18 percent in just 140 minutes per week – something you can achieve with light jogging four days a week – compared to 300 minutes for men. 

If women pick up the pace and take vigorous exercise, like interval training, aerobics and racquet sports, they can reduce their risk by the same amount in just 57 minutes a week, while men need 110 minutes. However, the study also notes that just 33 percent of women and 43 percent of men meet the weekly recommendations for exercise.

According to the authors of the study, the stark differences may be explained in part by physiological and anatomical differences; men have greater lung capacity, larger hearts and more lean body mass than women, and therefore women may require greater respiratory, metabolic and strength function to perform the same movements.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.