11 December 2017

Are women naturally fitter than men?

A study found that women's muscles extract oxygen from the blood faster than men, which indicates a superior aerobic system.

There are many benefits to being physically fit, including better health, higher energy levels and a more positive state of mind. 

And, according to a previous Health24 article, a person who maintains aerobic fitness may delay biological ageing by up to 12 years.

There are also factors that lower our levels of aerobic fitness. One of these is sleep apnoea.

Women have the edge

When it comes to getting and staying fit, women may have an aerobic edge over men, new research suggests.

In a small new study, investigators compared oxygen uptake and muscle oxygen extraction in 18 young men and women while they worked out on a treadmill. Oxygen uptake is an important measure of aerobic fitness.

Women consistently processed oxygen about 30% faster than men, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

"The findings are contrary to the popular assumption that men's bodies are more naturally athletic," study author Thomas Beltrame said in a university news release.

Shaking up conventional wisdom

Another researcher put it this way.

"We found that women's muscles extract oxygen from the blood faster, which, scientifically speaking, indicates a superior aerobic system," said Richard Hughson. He is a professor with the faculty of applied health sciences at Waterloo and is also an expert in vascular ageing and brain health.

Because women process oxygen faster, women are less likely to accumulate molecules linked with muscle fatigue, effort perception and poor athletic performance, the researchers explained.

The findings were published recently in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

"While we don't know why women have faster oxygen uptake, this study shakes up conventional wisdom," Beltrame said. "It could change the way we approach assessment and athletic training down the road."

Image credit: iStock