Women exercise less than men -- and that could have consequences for their physical and mental health alike.
On average, men are nearly twice as active as women -- getting at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, according to a recent study published in the journal Preventive Medicine. That's particularly bad news for women, the researchers say, because their comparative inactivity puts them at greater risk for metabolic syndrome, a descriptor for a cluster of related conditions such as high cholesterol, extra abdominal fat and high blood pressure that often lead to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. It's also associated with higher levels of depression, the researchers found.
The good news? There's something we can all do about it. "The results indicate that regular physical activity participation was associated with positive health outcomes for both men and women; however, there was a greater strength of association for women," lead researcher Paul Loprinzi, an assistant professor of exercise science at Bellarmine University said in a statement. He conducted the study with Bradley Cardinal, a professor of social psychology of physical activity, while at Oregon State University.
Cardinal and Loprinzi found that, of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 men and women, there was a disparity of 12 minutes of daily exercise between the genders. While men got an average 30 minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, women only got 18 minutes, on average. The activity was measured by accelerometers that participants wore for the duration of the study, rather than notoriously unreliable self-reporting.
The experiment began as an effort to understand the relationship between exercise, metabolic syndrome and depression. Indeed, they found a relationship between the two conditions and the activity; one in three women had metabolic syndrome, while one in five suffered from clinical symptoms of depression. That was particularly intriguing to the researchers because, aside from exercise, women outpaced men in all other health behaviors, such as not smoking and superior diet.
How the three conditions fit together remained unclear. Previous studies have found that exercise can help reduce symptoms of depression -- and separate studies have found that depression is associated with a higher risk of abdominal fat and insulin resistance, which are both metabolic conditions.