Gender medicine – Do women benefit more from sport than men? – Knowledge


Women gain more when they exercise – for their health. And that is important because, contrary to popular belief, a similar number of women as men die from the most common cause of death, cardiovascular disease.

When women exercise, it reduces their risk of death more quickly and more significantly than men. A new study shows that men achieve the best effect with five hours of exercise per week. Women have the same effect with just 140 minutes of training. And they have a lower risk of death than men who exercise if they exercise for up to five hours a week.

More about the sports study

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For this study, over 400,000 US adults (55 percent women, 45 percent men and no information on non-binary and intersex people) were surveyed. Namely, their sporting leisure activities, more precisely the frequency, duration, intensity and type of sport.

The researchers wanted to find out whether exercise brings different health benefits depending on gender. The result: For men, the risk of death decreases by 15 percent with three hours of exercise per week. Women can reduce their risk of death by 24 percent with three hours of exercise.

The surveys took place regularly from 1997 to 2019. The researchers’ conclusion: This data can help close the observed gender gap in sport. This refers to the observation that girls and women do less sport than boys and men. The hope: With these results, we can motivate women to do more sport.

The results were published in a cardiology journal in February 2024.

Sport as prevention against cardiovascular diseases

For Corinna Brunckhorst, professor and senior physician in cardiology at Zurich University Hospital, this study is important. Because it shows once again: “Sport protects against cardiovascular diseases. And that is important for both women and men.” Because cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in Switzerland.


Most common causes of death by age and gender, 2022.

BFS – Cause of Death Statistics (CoD)

And what many people don’t know is that women (this refers to biological and social gender) have a similarly high risk of cardiovascular diseases as men throughout their lives.

Gender medicine, gender, sex and gender briefly explained

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In gender-sensitive medicine, the category of gender is included. In the past, studies were carried out almost exclusively on the male body. Therefore, information about the tolerance of medications and knowledge about diseases and their symptoms such as heart attacks in men are very well known, but we know little about women, non-binary or intersex people.

The term “gender” includes sex (the biological sex based on chromosomes, hormone levels and organs) and gender (the social, lived and perceived gender). Gender can be used to identify different social expectations and attributions for women and men, such as who is good at mathematics, who is good at manual labor, who we expect to take action, who has a mediating role, who wears their hair how, who is good at sports and much more. These assumptions affect self-perception and can in turn have effects on the body, such as back problems due to lack of exercise or physical reactions due to stress.

When studying gender, it is important that biological sex is understood linearly.

“In brief: That’s what LGBTIQ+ means.”

Estrogen protects women until menopause

Estrogen protects the blood vessels. With menopause, estrogen levels decrease. This means that the protective mechanism no longer exists and the number of cardiovascular diseases is increasing rapidly. «Vascular diseases occur about ten years later in women than in men. But women are catching up, are often more severely affected and the consequences are more serious,” says Corinna Brunckhorst.

Gender aspect in studies

Such findings often remain obscure because studies are primarily conducted on men. But it turns out that these findings about the male body cannot be transferred to everyone.

Severe, adverse side effects are almost twice as likely in women as in men and cannot be explained simply by differences in body weight. And even today, women and even more so non-binary people are significantly underrepresented in clinical trials.

Among other things, it was argued that women endanger the test accuracy due to a fluctuating hormonal cycle. Therefore, male animals are already considered standard in the laboratory.

But a recent study of 2023 shows that male mice are more unpredictable than female mice.

And regardless of whether this also applies to humans or not: As soon as differences in the absorption of medications and other medical processes are observed, it is a gain in knowledge if this category is taken into account in studies.

It remains to be seen whether the distinction based on the gender category is sufficient. Or whether in the future we will use personalized medicine to break down treatments based on individual factors such as genetic data and hormone levels and social influences such as gender or race.

It’s not just the lack of inclusion of all genders in medicine that is problematic. Most medical illustrations, including in dermatology textbooks, almost exclusively depict white people. This leads to misdiagnosis of skin diseases. And promotes the assumption that white people are the norm for everyone.

Medical student and illustrator Chidiebere Ibe wants to change that to reflect the diversity of people. In 2021 he posted a self-made drawing of a black fetus in black mother leaves online. This illustration has attracted a lot of media attention.

But the interpretation of such results requires a certain degree of caution. Just because a difference is found between the sexes does not mean that there are only biological reasons for it. The distinction between sex and gender helps.

Gender and sport

“Gender” stands for the lived and perceived gender and the different social expectations of men and women. Even though many hope that we are free from such role stereotypes, studies show that such ideas are very present in our society. Such assumptions also exist regarding sport. Corinna Brunckhorst says: “Boys who are good at sports are seen as cool. For girls, other social aspects, such as appearance, are often crucial to whether they are perceived as attractive.” These gender stereotypes potentially and unfortunately influence attitudes towards sport and therefore our behavior from a young, formative age.

Gender gap in sport

Worldwide, women participate in sports less often than men. This so-called gender gap in sport starts in adolescence. But, says doctor Brunckhorst: “Since cardiovascular diseases are the number 1 cause of death for both men and women, prevention through sport is extremely important for all genders. And the following applies: it is never too late for sport.”

The WHO currently recommends two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week for healthy adults. Future studies will show whether these recommendations will be different for the genders in the future.

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