We're constantly being warned that sitting all day long is killing us slowly, but now it's looking like inactivity might pose even more of a danger to women than it is to men. A new study has discovered that women aren't as likely as men to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and the researchers found this puts the ladies at greater risk of developing depression and the dreaded metabolic syndrome. (Start doing squats while you continue to read this.)
The study was led by Bradley Cardinal, a professor of social psychology of physical activity at Oregon State University, and used a nationally representative sample of 1,146 people. Researchers measured their physical activity using accelerometers. What they found was that the women were only getting approximately 18 minutes of "moderate-to-vigorous exercise" on a daily basis. Men, on the other hand, were getting an average of 30 minutes.
While that might not sound like a huge difference, it turned out that the less exercise people got the bigger their odds of getting metabolic syndrome were. Metabolic syndrome, in case you haven't been actively researching all the terrible things that can go wrong with your body lately, is the term for a group of factors (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, carrying extra weight around your abdomen) that together put you at a much higher risk of developing coronary disease, Type 2 diabetes, and strokes.
Depression is also an issue. One of the other researchers Paul Loprinzi, now an assistant professor of exercise science at Bellarmine University, said, "Those who get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day are less likely to be depressed, less likely to have high cholesterol and less likely to have metabolic syndrome." Obviously depression, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome are all undesirable outcomes—whether you're a male or female. But since women are more likely to not be hitting that crucial 30 minute exercise mark, we're more likely to suffer from depression and metabolic syndrome.
So why are women not as active as men? Well, the study didn't specifically address that side of things, but Cardinal said,
Research has shown that around ages 5 or 6 these patterns begin. Parents tend to be more concerned with the safety of girls, and have more restrictive practices around outdoor time and playtime than with boys.
Aha! We've discussed this exact thing very recently, when it was revealed that parents are less likely to make their preschool-aged girls go outside and play. Now it's looking like that bias has real, long-term health consequences. Oh, and then there's the fact that women often report they don't have time to exercise because of the demands of raising their kids. Gah. Maybe we need to focus on free-range mothers as much as we do kids and chickens.
The good news—if there is any here—for women is that Loprinzi and Cardinal are working on other research which has shown that adults can improve their health by working in physical activity in short bursts throughout the day. So you wouldn't necessarily need to head to the gym for 30 minutes, you could do the old "taking the stairs" trick or walking around while you're on the phone. Or, if you want to get crazy and multitask on multiple levels, you can take your daughter to the park and run around with her. That way you'll cut your risk of getting depressed and metabolically challenged, and she'll be less likely to end up being inactive as an adult.
Image via Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock.