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Women Urged to Find the Time for Exercise

By Abhijit Ghosh

At a recent meeting of the women's health special interest group, Dr. Patricia Deuster of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences underscored the health dividend to be gained when women find more opportunities to exercise.

She defined physical activity as any movement that results in energy expenditure. Exercise, on the other hand, is a subset of physical activity that is planned, structured and repetitive and carried out to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness.

From a clinical perspective, maximal aerobic power (VO2max) is a measure of cardiopulmonary function, and reflects one's ability to transport and deliver oxygen to skeletal muscle for use by tissues. Deuster showed that there is direct correlation between heart rate and oxygen use.

Deuster discussed key differences in exercise as a function of gender. Prior to puberty, there are no major gender differences in body size or structure. However, with the onset of puberty, physical differences emerge. These include females having broader hips, smaller sizes, more fat mass and lower VO2max values. "VO2max is 5-15 percent lower for females compared to men when adjusted for body weight," noted Deuster, adding that females have smaller left ventricles, lower blood volume and hemoglobin content than males. "However, if we adjust for lean body mass, the differences are negligible."

From a performance perspective, Deuster shared data showing that women run slower over most distances compared to men. In addition, she noted that women are 40-60 percent weaker in upper-body strength and 25-30 percent weaker in lower-body strength than men.

Deuster also discussed studies showing the benefit of exercise for improving mood and reducing depressive symptoms in post-partum women. Physical activity and exercise are also of tremendous value for weight maintenance. Deuster said increases in weight and girth of middle age women can be prevented or attenuated by maintaining or increasing physical activity. In addition, research has shown that women who maintain an active lifestyle have decreased levels of inflammatory markers such as serum amyloid-A and fibrinogen.

Deuster also emphasized the need to promote and study physical activity and exercise in minority women. She concluded that physical activity and exercise provide multiple benefits to women and that clinicians must find ways to get more women to exercise.
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