How Do Sex Differences Affect Our Health? Ladies first "¦

Health Professional

My girlfriends and I often talk about how lucky we are to be alive in this day and age of opportunity for women -- but also about how balancing our career and family options can be challenging.

I also take interest when my guy friends talk about their modern problems in dealing with shifting gender roles and expectations.

As someone who is interested in how men and women experience the world differently, two recent studies spoke to me. I'll take a look at one study in this blog post, and the other in the next.

First up: Is it harder for women to stay fit and healthy than it is for men? Are our eyes deceiving us when it appears that our boyfriend or husband can skip dessert and drop 20 pounds like that, while we starve and sweat just to see the scale go up? This study suggests that --sorry girls-- something like this is indeed true.

Researchers at the University of Missouri brought in men and women with type 2 diabetes who were obese, then did measurements of their cardiovascular systems before and after a four-month walking program.

After a bout of exercise, your blood pressure should go back to normal fairly quickly. When the men took an exercise challenge test, their blood pressure recovered more quickly than women's did. Plus they had improvements after they went through the walking problem. The women didn't.

Diabetes is a major killer in the United States among men and women, and experts tell people to exercise more, with the assumption that it will provide the same benefits for all. Instead, this study found that women may not get the same results. In fact, the lead researcher suggests that obese women may need to exercise harder and/or longer than their male counterparts, just to get the same benefits. Fair? No, but knowledge is power.

This teaches us a couple of important points:

  • We need more research on how diseases (and their treatments) affect women specifically. Women and men's differences extend well beyond their diverse anatomies, and doctors need to be able to recommend the strategies that will do the most good for their patients' particular needs.
  • Women need to acknowledge particular threats to their health. Heart disease, not breast cancer, is the top killer of women in the United States. The symptoms of a heart attack can be different in women compared to men.
  • Our roles and expectations as men and women will change in our lives - but the basic requirements of our bodies aren't likely to follow. Please learn how to take care of your body and its particular needs.

The study, "Exercise training improves hemodynamic recovery to isometric exercise in obese men with Type 2 diabetes but not in obese women," was published in the December issue of Metabolism.

Next week: Science offers some new advice for guys

For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D.  (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms.