How Much Exercise A Woman Really Needs

Women who can exercise near the highest levels for their age group can slash their risk of premature death in half, according to a landmark study in today's New England Journal of Medicine (see link below). Until now, the only guidelines available were based on men and it wasn't certain if the same numbers also applied to women. Because more women are being included in medical research, however, gender differences in health issues are emerging.

After reviewing the results of more than 5,700 cardiovascular stress tests performed by women over age 35 with no symptoms or history of heart trouble, researchers determined their watermark for exercise was slightly lower than for men. And those differences between the sexes become greater as women age. The average 50-year-old women, based on the speed and grade of the treadmill, needs to reach 8.2 metabolic equivalents (METs) while the exercise capacity for a man of similar age should be 9.2 METs.

Researchers also used this fitness measurement to predict the survival rate of some 4,500 women with heart problems over five years. In both groups, women who achieved less than 85 percent of their optimal MET score doubled their odds of death.

No big surprise about these results, considering a study I posted earlier this spring found women who exercised from four to seven hours a week cut their chances of sudden cardiac arrest in half and reduce their risk of breast cancer.

That's why, if you want to become healthy, it's important to view exercise as a drug that needs to be precisely prescribed to achieve maximum benefits. If you need some direction to get started, I urge you to review my beginner's exercise page that includes links to other pages and a free table you can download to keep track of your progress.

New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 353, No. 5, August 4, 2005: 468-475

MSNBC August 3, 2005

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