Vigorous Activity May Be Better for Women Than Moderate Workouts

While any exercise at all is certainly better than living a couch-potato lifestyle, women might see lower blood pressure and less depression with hard-core exercise compared to moderate physical activity, according to the results of a new study.

Conducted by researchers in Australia, the study found that middle-aged women who reported a mix of moderate and vigorous activity compared to those who only reported moderate activity saw a lower risk of both hypertension and depression. According to the authors, depression and hypertension were chosen as outcomes because they are the most common health concerns seen by primary care providers in Australia.

The study featured 11,285 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, who were surveyed in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010.

Participants were age 45 to 50 at the start of the study, and were asked questions regarding their treatment or diagnosis for hypertension and were assessed by the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, which measures patients for symptoms of depression.

Women were also asked about their exercise regimen, including brisk walking, moderate activities such as golf, gardening, and swimming, and high-intensity exercise such as competitive sports, running, or aerobics.

Researchers found that the risk of developing hypertension declined as physical activity increased, as did the risk of developing depression, suggesting that exercising for a more elevated heart rate offers more substantial health benefits.

A 2007 report out of Britain agreed that the higher the intensity the better when it comes to exercise, belying the belief most Brits had that a short walk around the block was enough to keep them fit and healthy.

When surveyed, a majority of British believed that moderate exercise – walking, housework or gardening – was better than jogging or competitive sports, thanks to new government guidelines released in the 1990s.

“Time and time again, the largest and most robust studies have shown that vigorously active individuals live longer and enjoy a better quality of life than moderately active individuals and couch potatoes,” said Dr. Gary O’Donovan of the University of Exeter. “It’s extremely worrying that British adults now believe that a brief stroll and a bit of gardening is enough to make them fit and healthy. The challenge now is to amend Britain’s physical activity guidelines so that they emphasize the role vigorous activity plays in fighting obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.”

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