Beef up Your Daily Exercise, Ladies!

Women exercise less on average than men and are at higher risk for metabolic syndrome

April 11, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Listen up, ladies! It's time to jump on the bike or treadmill because women aren't getting as much exercise as men - and it's putting them at higher risk for health problems.

A new study has found that women are at a higher risk for developing metabolic syndrome because they are less likely to get 30 minutes of exercise each day compared to men.

Metabolic syndrome is a complex disorder related to obesity that encompasses several risky conditions, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and extra weight in the abdominal area.

"Get 30 minutes of exercise every day."

Women with metabolic syndrome are more likely to develop heart disease and type 2 diabetes and are at a higher risk for having a stroke.

Authors Paul Loprinzi and Bradley Cardinal analyzed nationally representative data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Survey to look for links between exercise, depression and metabolic syndrome.

Loprinzi is an exercise science professor at Bellarmine University, and Cardinal is a social psychology and physical activity professor at OSU.

They looked at 1,146 men and women who wore accelerometers to measure their daily activity. This objective measurement has greater accuracy than asking participants since their answers may not be accurate or honest.

The researchers calculated that men get an average of 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise each day, but women fall short with just 18 minutes a day on average.

That lower average translates into a higher risk of depression, high cholesterol and development of metabolic syndrome.

Among those in the study, about one third of the women had metabolic syndrome and one in five had symptoms of depression.

"It's pretty striking what happens to you if you don't meet that 30 minutes a day of activity," Cardinal said. "Women in our sample had better health behavior – they were much less likely to smoke for instance, but the lack of activity still puts them at risk."

Being depressed carries its own set of health risks, said Cardinal, including a higher likelihood of having more fat around the middle of the body and developing a higher resistance to insulin, which can set the stage for type 2 diabetes.

Loprinzi and Cardinal's study did not offer a glimpse into the reasons women are getting less exercise, but they cited research supporting the possibility that women's physical activity patterns are rooted in childhood patterns that follow them into adulthood.

"Research has shown that around ages 5 or 6 these patterns begin," Cardinal said. "Parents tend to be more concerned with the safety of girls, and have more restrictive practices around outdoor time and playtime than with boys."

Loprinzi pointed out that past research has also found that women say it's difficult to find time to exercise while taking care of children.

One partial solution is to get every bit of exercise possible throughout the day in small ways, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, pacing while on the phone, or parking further away in the parking lot at the store.

The study appeared online April 10 in the journal Preventive Medicine. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.