Physical Activity and Women's Health

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Ph ysical Activ ity and Women’s Health
Ch rist ine L. W ells
ARI ZONA STA TE UNI VERS ITY
A NOTE FRO M TH E ED ITOR S

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS SERIES 2, NUMBER 5, OF THE PCPFS RESEARCH DIGEST.

HI GHLI GHT
“W e h a ve fa iled —in p h ysic a l ed u ca t ion a n d m e d ici n e—t o cl a rif y fo r wom en t h e im p ort a n ce of h a bit u a l p h ysic a l a c t ivi t y, p h ysic a l fi t n es s, a n d m a in t e n a n c e of ‘n orm a l’ bo d y we igh t . We m u st m o u n t n e w ed u ca t ion a l ef fort s t o d e velo p cu lt u r a lly se n sit ive a n d et h n ic -sp e cifi c h e a lt h m e ssa g es a n d p r ogra m s.” Many more women are active today compared to when the first studies of activity in America were conducted. However, as a group, girls and women are still less active than boys and men. Some of this difference in activity between males and females can be explained by the historical disparity in opportunities for females. Since 1972, when Title IX was implemented, more females have become involved in organized sport. We have yet to discover the effects of this increased participation on lifetime activity among females. Much of the literature concerning health benefits of physical activity is based on studies done primarily with men. Only recently have large-scale studies been initiated to investigate the effects of physical activity on women’s health and wellness. Chris Wells, the author of this paper, has been a pioneer in the study of physical activity for women. As you will see, much more research studying girls and women is necessary, but much has been accomplished in recent years. Diseases often thought to be “diseases of men” affect women as well as men. The evidence now suggests there are many health benefits for females who become regularly involved in physical activity. This article clearly shows that women, especially women of color, are more likely to be sedentary. Sedentary living increases risk of heart disease, various cancers, hypertension, stroke, and non-insulin diabetes. Controlling body fatness, another factor that is related to increased risk of chronic diseases, is also associated with inactivity. Continued efforts that focus on increasing physical activity among girls and women will reduce the risk of chronic diseases and death.

IN TROD UCTI ON
Healthy People 2000 sets forth the nation’s health goals for the next decade (Public Health Service, 1990). One of three primary goals is to reduce health disparities among Americans. This goal addresses reducing preventable disease and death from chronic diseases among racial and ethnic minorities in the United States. Also of importance is the disparity that exists among women as compared to men and among women of different racial and ethnic groups. It is significant that of eight priorities for health promotion and disease prevention, increased physical activity and fitness leads the list. If we could increase physical activity and decrease obesity, the reasoning goes, much of the premature death, disease, and disability of high-risk populations could be virtually eliminated. But, what is the relationship between physical activity and health in women? Can a strong case be made for increasing physical activity in women as a primary preventive measure for major chronic disease? Will increasing physical activity reduce risk of disease and improve the health and wellness of women? Is physical activity as beneficial for women as research has shown it to be for men? This paper will address this issue by presenting the growing body of evidence for the beneficial relationships between physical activity (including exercise and physical fitness) and the major chronic diseases in women, with special reference to race and ethnicity. It will be evident that American women need to make significant lifestyle modifications to alter their health risks, and that health and educational professionals must mount new efforts to develop culturally...
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