They say there are no miracle cures or one-size-fits-all solutions, right? But the closest thing we have when it comes to feeling healthy and balanced might just be exercise. What else can lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels, help prevent heart disease and diabetes, reduce mortality, AND even boost mood and cognitive function? Not too shabby.
And get this: while everyone gets these benefits from exercise, it turns out that women might get even more out of their workouts. Why? It’s all about the hormones (and the health risks women specifically face), baby, so read on to find out why working out really works for women.
The Specific Benefits of Exercise for Women
Like we said, working out is seriously beneficial for everyone (and we mean everyone!), but it does have a few added bonuses for women. So what are they?
Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
Why do we list this as a specific benefit for women? Well, did you know that, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States? It killed 314,186 women in 2020, meaning it caused 1 in every 5 female deaths. Those numbers are astounding – but there is something we can all do! Yep, you guessed it: get more exercise.
Just check out these stats provided by research into exercise and cardiovascular disease:
- Lack of exercise leads to 6% of coronary heart disease occurrences worldwide
- 90% of heart disease is preventable through a healthier diet, regular exercise, and not smoking
- In one study, higher levels of physical activity were associated with a 21% reduction in coronary heart disease (CHD) events for men – but a 29% reduction of CHD events in women
- In another study, people who engaged in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity leisure activity per week had a 14% lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who reported no exercise
Keeps those mood swings in check
If you’re someone who gets a period, or who once got a period, you know that all of those shifting levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone cause more than changes in your fertility levels. They can cause some wicked mood swings: as estrogen levels drop, before and during their period or leading up to menopause, women lose a natural source of the “feel good” brain chemical called serotonin. This can mean moodiness, or even depression and anxiety attacks can strike.
But the good news is that exercise causes endorphins, another “feel good” chemical, to be released into the brain. This can help to counteract that lack of serotonin, and leave you feeling happier and more relaxed after a workout.
And what if your estrogen levels are permanently reduced, after you’ve gone through menopause? You can still get a boost from a good workout! In fact, in one study of women who were dealing with postmenopausal anxiety and depression, the group of participants who exercised showed an 18 to 22% improvement in symptoms, while those who did not exercise showed no improvement.
Helps your fertility, your pregnancy, and your baby
Trying to get pregnant? Maintaining a healthy weight is a great way to boost your fertility. In fact, being overweight can actually alter hormone levels that affect the menstrual cycle and egg quality, so it can be easier for women who are at a healthy weight to conceive.
And once you do get pregnant? Exercise can help reduce all of those fun little things that come along with being pregnant, like constipation, bloating, backaches, and swelling, in addition to helping with moods, as pointed out above. It also helps you sleep better – and you’re going to need that sleep!
Not only that, but research has shown mothers who exercise during pregnancy are less likely to have overweight children, and babies born to active mothers also develop better motor skills.
Strengthens those bones
Women are far more susceptible than men to bone problems like osteoporosis and the increased risk of bone fracture that comes with it. In fact, 8 out of 10 people in the US with osteoporosis are women; not only that, but 50% of women over 50 with the disease will break a bone at some point. And if that break happens to a hip, as it often does, it can lead to immobility and even premature death.
So in comes exercise – specifically strength training or other kinds of weight-bearing exercise – to save the day! Weight-bearing workouts, in particular, build skeletal strength, stimulating bone-cell activity. They also stress the body, strengthening bones to prevent further injury. Doing strengthening workouts actually improves bone density by about 1% per year, which might not sound like a lot, but think of it this way: if you’ve been working out for 10 years, you’ll have increased your bone density by 10%!
Decreases your risk of breast cancer
We may be done with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but we shouldn’t forget that almost 300,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer this year. But you know what we’re going to say: yes, studies show that being more active can actually reduce your chances of developing breast cancer.
According to the research, women who move more seem to have an approximately 13% lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer than women who do the lowest amounts of physical activity. And women who do large amounts of vigorous exercise seem to have around 17% lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer and around 10% lower risk of postmenopausal breast cancer than women who do low levels of vigorous physical activity.
Not only that, but studies also show that for breast cancer survivors, regular exercise is associated with fewer treatment side-effects, enhanced quality of life, and could even reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and death.
So what’s the story? Are you getting your recommended dose of vitamin exercise? It can feel hard to fit it into your busy lifestyle, but with all of the benefits listed above, as well as all of the other great things exercise can do for your body and mind, it might be time to get motivated. And no one is talking about perfection, or even crazy short-term results: your health is all about the long game! Try to find something you enjoy, enlist a friend, get a trainer, whatever works for you – we want all you women out there to be feeling good and living long, healthy lives, and getting moving will hopefully get you there.
Co-written by Joanna Bowling