WSI Task Forces

Physical Activity and Women's Health Task Force:

The evidence for the health benefits of physical activity cuts across all age groups and supports the importance of regular physical activity in maintaining good health and optimizing physiological function. Participation in physical activity also aids in the prevention and/or treatment of some of the chronic and degenerative diseases associated with aging such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular abnormalities. Although many of the clinical trials and epidemiological studies in health research have excluded women, the data that are available do suggest that women derive many health benefits from an active lifestyle.

Active women are often two or three decades younger physiologically than sedentary women of the same chronological age. Cardiovascular function, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and bone mass are all enhanced through a regimen of regular exercise. These improvements in physiologic function have a positive impact on women's performance in the workplace as well as on their future health.

Women who choose to be sedentary have selected a course which in itself is a risk factor for many chronic and degenerative diseases. In many respects, the effects of inactivity mimic the effects of aging and vice versa. Perhaps the most important role of physical activity in the life of an older woman lies in prolonging her independence. Much of the physical decline that was presumed an inevitable consequence of aging is now thought to be the result of inactivity. While no one can guarantee that exercise will prolong life, it will enhance the quality of life for older women who value their independence.

Future research must include not only Caucasian women but women of other ethnic and racial backgrounds and also focus on areas of specific concern to women. There has been very little research funded in the areas of physical activity and: 1) pregnancy, 2) menopause, 3) eating disorders, 4) ovarian or breast cancer, 5) the menstrual cycle, or 6) autonomic dysfunction diseases more common in women such as migraine, Reynaud's, and multiple sclerosis. The Task Force will work to assure that the role of physical activity in achieving positive health outcomes for women receives more attention, to educate women about the importance of physical activity to their current and future health, and to encourage more research into the effect of physical activity in areas of specific concern to women's health.

The 2002 WSI Conference on Physical Activity and Health Guidelines for Women: National and International Considerations Related to Ethnicity and Race was a start in this direction. Several reports from this Conference are available on the web site and others will be added in the future.



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