skip to main content

Women Less Likely to Get Vigorous Exercise

by Rick Blizzard, D.B.A.
Healthcare Editor

Is this fair? Unlike women, men aren't under constant social pressure to put on makeup or spend time on their hair. They still typically get paid more for the same jobs, and they don't have to bear the pain of childbirth. Now, as if to add insult to injury, a new study indicates that women are more likely than men to die if they don't exercise. The study of 5,721 women, conducted between 1992 and 2000 by Dr. Martha Gulati of the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, shows that the risk of death is proportionally higher for women with poor physical fitness than it is for men with poor physical fitness.

Those findings are all the more serious given data from Gallup Health and Healthcare surveys* conducted from 2000 to 2002 showing that women get significantly less exercise than men do.

Vigorous Exercise

Data compiled from three annual surveys of Americans' health habits indicate that women are much less likely than men to engage in vigorous sports or physical activity. Nearly half (47%) of women between the ages of 18 and 49 and two-thirds (67%) of women aged 50 and older say that they never engage in this type of activity, compared to 28% of 18- to 49-year-old men and 54% of men aged 50 and older who say they never do.

Among men and women who do engage in vigorous exercise, there is little difference in the frequency with which they do so, although a higher percentage of men report exercising three or more times per week.

Moderate Exercise

Although men are more likely than women to report engaging in vigorous exercise, the same does not hold true for moderate physical activity. According to the Gallup data, the percentages of women and men in similar age groups who say they engage in "moderate sports or recreational activities" do not differ significantly. Men and women in similar age groups also give similar reports on the number of days per week that they engage in this type of activity.

Health Implications

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that physical activity need not be strenuous in order to achieve health benefits, but it does recommend engaging in moderate exercise (like brisk walking) five times a week for 30 minutes, or vigorous exercise (like jogging) three times a week for 20 minutes. Gallup's data suggest that few women or men are meeting these guidelines.

Gulati's study found that compared to women in the highest physical fitness range, the risk of death for women in the medium physical fitness range doubled, and the risk of death for women in the lowest physical fitness range tripled. These findings give rise to another question -- is it enough for women to raise their exercise levels equal to those of men, or do women actually need to exercise more than men to stay healthy? More research is needed to determine the answer.

*Results based on an aggregate of telephone interviews with 2,006 American adults, aged 18 and older, conducted from 2000 through 2002. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2.4 percentage points.


Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030