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.