Tag: sex differences

Difference in Brain Structures may Explain Concussion Outcomes for Males and Females

Coup and contrecoup brain injury. Credit: Scientific Animations CC4.0

Important brain structures that are key for signalling in the brain are narrower and less dense in females, and more likely to be damaged by brain injuries, such as concussion. Long-term cognitive deficits occur when the signals between brain structures weaken due to the injury. These structural differences in male and female brains might explain why females are more prone to concussions and experience longer recovery from the injury than their male counterparts, according to a University of Pennsylvania-led preclinical study published in Acta Neuropathologica.

Each year, approximately 50 million individuals worldwide suffer a concussion, also referred to as mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). For more than 15% of individuals who suffer persisting cognitive dysfunction, which includes difficulty concentrating, learning and remembering new information, and making decisions.

Although males make up the majority of emergency department visits for concussion, this has been primarily attributed to their greater exposure to activities with a risk of head impacts compared to females. In contrast, it has recently been observed that female athletes have a higher rate of concussion and appear to have worse outcomes than their male counterparts participating in the same sport.

“Clinicians have observed for a long time that females suffer from concussion at higher rates than males in the same sports, and that they take longer to recover cognitive function, but couldn’t explain the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon,” said senior author Douglas Smith, MD, a professor of Neurosurgery and director of Penn’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair. “The variances in brain structures of females and males not only illuminate why this disparity exists, but also exposes biomarkers, such as axon protein fragments, that can be measured in the blood to determine injury severity, monitor recovery, and eventually help identify and develop treatments that help patients repair these damaged structures and restore cognitive function.”

Axons connect neurons, allowing communication across the brain. These axons form bundles that make up white matter in the brain and play a large role in learning and communication between different brain regions. Axons are delicate structures and are vulnerable to damage from concussion.

Communication between axons in the brain is powered by sodium channels that serve as the brain’s electric grid. When axons are damaged, these sodium channels are also impaired, which causes loss of signaling in the brain. The loss of signaling causes the cognitive impairment experienced by individuals after concussion.

In this study, researchers used large animal models of concussion to identify differences in brains of males and females after a concussion. They found that females had a higher population of smaller axons, which researchers demonstrated are more vulnerable to injury. They also reported that in these models, females had greater loss of sodium channels after concussion.

“The differences in brain structure not only tell us a lot about how brain injury affects males and females differently but could offer insights in other brain conditions that impact axons, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease,” said Smith. “If female brains are more vulnerable to damage from concussion, they might also be more vulnerable to neurodegeneration, and it’s worth further research to understand how sex influences the structure and functions of the brain.”

Source: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Sex Differences Don’t Disappear as a Country’s Equality Develops – Sometimes They Become Stronger

Master1305/Shutterstock

Agneta Herlitz, Karolinska Institutet

The more gender equal a society is, the more similar men and women will be, adopting more similar interests, personality traits and behavioural patterns. Or so many people seem to believe.

Statements like this might sound like truisms, but science shows reality may be more complicated.

Several studies have found that some psychological sex differences, such as those in personality, are larger in more gender-equal countries. The same goes for countries that are more educated, prosperous and otherwise have better living conditions. This has become known as the gender-equality paradox.

Until recently, it was unclear how widespread this pattern might be. My team, which included research assistant Kare Hedebrant, tried to address that in a recently published study, where we investigated which psychological sex differences are associated with living conditions and, if so, how.

The study covered a range of themes, from personality and cognitive functions to sexting and circadian rhythm. Our study focused on mostly western countries but used some data from other countries such as India and Kenya.

We reviewed 54 articles that analyse the relationship between magnitudes of psychological sex differences and country-level indicators of living conditions. We also used data from 27 meta-analyses (reviews of previous research) of psychological sex differences and conducted new analyses to determine associations between sex differences and national economy, education, health, gender equality and more.

Sex differences

Each study used data from at least five countries, usually spanning several decades.

We grouped the many psychological dimensions covered by these studies into six categories: personal characteristics, cognition, interpersonal relations, emotion, academic preferences (such as a pull towards science, technology, engineering and maths) and morals and values.

Our findings paint a complex picture, showing that variation in psychological sex difference did not follow a uniform pattern. In countries with better living conditions, males and females are more alike in some regards and more different in others.

For example, differences in personality characteristics were frequently found to be larger in countries with better living conditions. This includes traits such as extroversion, agreeableness and altruism, which research seems to show are more strongly associated with women. The same was true for sex differences in some dimensions of emotion, specifically negative emotions in which females tend to score higher, such as shame.

Woman's hands holding a white paper sheet with male and female symbol over a crowded city street background
The gender paradox has confused researchers. StunningArt/Shutterstock

There were also exceptions to the gender-equality paradox. Sex differences in sexual behaviour, like engaging in casual sex, were consistently found to be smaller in countries with better living conditions. This is probably because women in these countries, where there are more permissive norms, have better access to contraceptives.

A complicated phenomenon

For cognitive functions, sex differences were sometimes larger, sometimes smaller in countries with better living conditions. Interestingly, the sex differences were larger in cognitive domains where women have strengths.

For instance, episodic memory (memory for experienced events) and verbal ability, where females typically do better than males, saw larger sex differences as living conditions improved. Females got better at episodic memory when they had better living conditions. By contrast, sex differences in semantic memory (memory for facts) and mathematical ability, where males tend to do better, decreased when living conditions improved.

This suggests that, when it comes to cognitive abilities, females benefit more than males from improvements in living conditions. The performance gap increases in domains where females have an advantage and closes in domains where males are ahead.

Not all psychological sex differences were associated with living conditions in the same way. So, can we say that there is a gender-equality paradox? Yes, to some extent, since more sex differences grew, rather than decreased, in countries with better living conditions.

In most cases, however, psychological sex difference magnitudes were not significantly associated with living conditions. This suggests that, in general, psychological sex differences are not greatly affected by living conditions but seem instead quite stable. For instance, research often finds females get higher grades at school across different subjects. It’s also common for researcher to find males have greater interest in maths. But neither seems to be affected by living conditions.

Even in cases where the magnitude of sex differences did vary in relation to living conditions, the pattern of male and female advantages usually remained the same. So, for example, though the female advantage over males in episodic memory ability is greater in some countries than others, females outperform males in almost all countries.

In summary, we found little support for the idea that psychological sex differences will vanish as societies develop. Policymakers probably cannot rely on that if they hope to achieve equal distributions of men and women in different professions. Instead, it appears that the dominant feature of psychological sex differences is their robustness in the face of social change.

Agneta Herlitz, Professor of Psychology, Karolinska Institutet

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Key Gene may Protect Against Severe COVID Infections in Men Under 75

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A certain variant of a key anti-inflammatory gene protects men under age 75 from severe illness and death when hospitalised from COVID, a genetic analysis of their blood shows. According to the authors of a major study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, the protective gene in question, an interleukin-1 receptor antagonist (IL1RN) variant, appears to tamp down inflammation, which can get out of control in severe cases SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The study showed that 124 men between the ages of 19 and 74 who possessed the IL1RN variant, called rs419598, were less likely to become severely ill after hospitalisation for COVID, and 80% less likely to die from the disease.

IL1RN is expressed naturally in the body. Different types of interleukin genes are known to dial inflammation up or down in the context of arthritis, and researchers say the results of the current study suggest that a similar dynamic influences the interleukin-1-related inflammation seen in COVID patients.

The findings, from researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, stand out because historically more men than women are known to die from COVID, and the IL1RN rs419598 variant appears to selectively protect only men up to age 74, but not beyond that as age-related chronic illnesses unfold.

The research team used sequencing technologies for the study to determine the presence of specific genes or variations in the letter code that makes up genes in blood samples from 2589 men and women hospitalised for COVID at NYU Langone’s Tisch Hospital in Manhattan from March 2020 to March 2021.

More than half of the men and women in the study were older than age 60 and obese, factors that are known to increase the risk of death from the viral infection. Overall, more men than women (240 men, at 60.5%; and 157 women, at 39.5%) died from their disease, with women 20% less likely to die than men.

“Our study results show that among hospitalised patients, while women are still overall less likely than men to die from COVID-19, those men age 74 and younger who possess the IL1RN gene variant rs419598 are much less likely to suffer the severe inflammation tied to SARS-CoV-2 infection and less likely to die from the disease,” said study colead investigator and molecular biologist Mukundan Attur, PhD. Attur is an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health.

Among the study’s other findings was that average blood levels of the anti-inflammatory protein IL-1Ra, coded by IL1RN, were 14 times higher in 181 hospitalised men than in healthy male study controls from the general population, and 10 times as high in 178 hospitalised women than in healthy females. The increased levels of IL-1Ra in women did not result in any statistically significant mortality reductions.

“Our analysis offers substantial evidence of the biological link between the severe inflammation seen in SARS-CoV-2 and that which occurs in rheumatoid arthritis,” said study senior investigator Steven Abramson, MD, the Frederick H. King Professor of Internal Medicine at NYU Langone.

Abramson, a rheumatologist who also serves as chair of the Department of Medicine and chief academic officer at NYU Langone, says previous research has shown that such rheumatoid inflammation is lower in people who possessed one of the three IL1RN variants analysed in the study.

More importantly, Abramson says, the new research suggests that restraining the interleukin-1 biological pathway, which is in part tamped down by the anti-inflammatory protein IL-1Ra, could help prevent the severe inflammation seen in SARS-CoV-2 infection. Further research, he says, is warranted into whether IL-1-inhibiting therapies, such as the IL1 receptor antagonists anakinra, canakinumab, and rilonacept, are effective against Covid infection.

Abramson already has plans to investigate if the IL-1 pathway plays a role in long Covid, when people experience new or lingering symptoms, such as fatigue and ‘brain fog’, months after recuperating from their initial infection.

Abramson points out that the new study adds to the growing scientific evidence about the biological factors that contribute to gender differences seen in deaths from COVID, which are known to vary widely across the United States.

Source: NYU Langone Health / NYU Grossman School of Medicine

New Advance against Heart Failure Caused by Y Chromosome Loss

Chromosomes. Credit: NIH

Researchers have discovered a gene on the Y chromosome that contributes to the greater incidence of heart failure in men when the Y chromosome is lost to ageing.

Y chromosome loss in men occurs progressively throughout life and can be detected in approximately 40% of 70-year-old men. In 2022, Kenneth Walsh, PhD, at University of Virginia discovered that this loss can contribute to heart muscle scarring and lead to heart failure. (That finding was the first to directly link Y chromosome loss to a specific harm to men’s health; Y chromosome loss is increasingly thought to play a role in diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to cancer.)

In an important follow-up finding published in Nature Cardiovascular Research, Walsh and his team have discovered how Y chromosome loss triggers changes in heart immune cells that make the cells more likely to cause scarring and heart failure.

Further, the researchers found they could reverse the harmful heart changes by giving lab mice a drug that targets the process of fibrosis that leads to the heart scarring, which could lead to a similar treatment for men.

“Our previous work identified that it was loss of the entire Y chromosome that contributed to heart disease in men,” said Walsh, the director of UVA’s Hematovascular Biology Center. “This new work identified a single gene on the Y chromosome that can account for the disease-promoting effects of Y chromosome loss.”

About Y chromosome loss

Unlike women, who have two X chromosomes, men have an X and a Y. For a long time, the genes found on the Y chromosome were not thought to play important roles in disease. Sex hormones, scientists thought, explained the differences in certain diseases in men and women. But Walsh’s groundbreaking work has helped change that perception. It also suggested an explanation for why heart failure is more common in men than women. (Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart failure, is the leading cause of death worldwide.)

Y chromosome loss occurs in only a small percentage of affected men’s cells. This results in what is called “mosaicism,” where genetically different cells occur within one individual. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why this partial Y chromosome loss occurs, but predominantly it strikes elderly men and men who smoke compared to those who don’t.

To better understand the effects of Y chromosome loss, Walsh and his team examined genes found on the Y chromosome to determine which might be important to heart scarring. One gene they looked at, Uty, helps control the operating instructions for immune cells called macrophages and monocytes, the scientists determined. When the Uty gene was disrupted, either individually or through Y chromosome loss, that triggered changes in the immune cells in lab mice. Suddenly, the macrophages were much more “pro-fibrotic,” or prone to scarring. This accelerated heart failure as well, the scientists found.

“The identification of a single gene on the Y chromosome provides information about a new druggable target to treat fibrotic diseases,” said Walsh, of UVA’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine and Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center.

Walsh and his team were able to prevent the harmful changes in the mice’s macrophages by giving them a specially designed monoclonal antibody. This halted the harmful changes in the heart, suggesting the approach might, with further research, lead to a way to treat or avoid heart failure and other fibrotic diseases in men with Y chromosome loss.

“Currently, we are working with our clinician colleagues in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at UVA to assess whether loss of the Y chromosome in men is associated with greater scarring in the heart,” Walsh said. “This research will provide new avenues for understanding the causes of heart disease.”

Based on their findings, Walsh and his team believe that a small group of genes found on the Y chromosome may have big effects on a wide array of diseases. Their new work identifies mechanisms that may lead to this, and they are hopeful that further research will provide a much better understanding of unknown causes of sickness and death in men.

“This research further documents the utility of studying the genetics of mutations that are acquired after conception and accumulate throughout life,” Walsh said. “These mutations appear to be as important to health and lifespan as the mutations that are inherited from one’s parents. The study of these age-acquired mutations represents a new field of human genetics.”

Source: University of Virginia Health System

Getting too Little Sleep Linked to High Blood Pressure

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Sleeping fewer than seven hours is associated with a higher risk of developing hypertension over time, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session.

While the association between sleep patterns and hypertension has been reported, evidence about the nature of this relationship has been inconsistent, according to researchers. The current analysis pools data from 16 studies conducted between January 2000 and May 2023, evaluating hypertension incidence in 1 044 035 people from six countries without a prior history of hypertension over a median follow-up of five years (follow-up ranged from 2.4 to 18 years). Short sleep duration was significantly associated with a higher risk of developing hypertension after adjusting for demographic and cardiovascular risk factors, including age, sex, education, BMI, blood pressure, smoking status etc. Furthermore, the association was found to be even stronger for those getting less than five hours of sleep.

“Based on the most updated data, the less you sleep – that is less than seven hours a day – the more likely you will develop high blood pressure in the future,” said Kaveh Hosseini, MD, assistant professor of cardiology at the Tehran Heart Center in Iran and principal investigator of the study. “We saw a trend between longer sleep durations and a greater occurrence of high blood pressure, but it was not statistically significant. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep, as is recommended by sleep experts, may be the best for your heart too.”

The study found that sleeping less than seven hours was associated with a 7% increased risk of developing hypertension, which spiked to 11% when reported sleep duration was less than five hours. By comparison, diabetes and smoking are known to heighten one’s risk of hypertension by at least 20%, Hosseini said.

While the study did not look at why this might be the case, Hosseini said that disrupted sleep could be to blame. For example, he said lifestyle habits or comorbid conditions such as overeating, alcohol use, nightshift work, certain medication use, anxiety, depression, sleep apnoea or other sleep disorders may be factors.

Researchers were surprised there were no age-based differences in the association between sleep duration and hypertension given that sleep patterns tend to shift with age. Participants ranged in age from 35.4 years to 60.9 years and 61% were female. When compared with men, females who reported less than seven hours of sleep had a 7% greater risk of developing hypertension.

“Getting too little sleep appears to be riskier in females,” Hosseini said. “The difference is statistically significant, though we are not sure it’s clinically significant and should be further studied. What we do see is that lack of good sleep patterns may increase the risk of high blood pressure, which we know can set the stage for heart disease and stroke.”

It’s important for people to talk with their health care team about their sleep patterns, especially if they have disrupted sleep that might be due to obstructive sleep apnoea. Sleep apnoea has been tied to higher rates of high blood pressure, stroke and coronary artery disease.

This study has several limitations, including that sleep duration was based on self-reported questionnaires, so changes in sleep duration over the follow-up period were not assessed. Moreover, there were variations in how short sleep duration was defined between the studies (fewer than five or six hours).

“Further research is required to evaluate the association between sleep duration and high blood pressure using more accurate methods like polysomnography, a method for evaluating sleep quality more precisely,” Hosseini said. “Moreover, the variations in reference sleep duration underline the need for standardised definition in sleep research to enhance the comparability and generalisability of findings across diverse studies.”

Source: American College of Cardiology

Fear may Make Women and Men Take Different Risk-based Decisions

Women experiencing fear tended to prioritise smaller short-term gain compared to men

Photo by Monstera on Pexels

Fear may affect women’s decisions in choosing immediate rewards versus larger delayed ones, while men’s decisions appear unaffected by emotion, according to a study published March 20, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Eleonora Fiorenzato, Patrizia Bisiacchi, and Giorgia Cona from the University of Padua, Italy.

Decision making is complex and still not fully understood, especially when weighing short- versus long-term benefits or costs. The known phenomenon “delay discounting” describes the common tendency to prefer an immediate reward rather than a later one, even if the later reward is significantly greater. In this study, Fiorenzato and colleagues examined how emotions like fear and joy, along with gender, affect decision making, especially when weighing immediate versus later rewards.

The authors recruited 308 participants (63% women, 37% men) via a social media survey. Survey participants were shown a brief standardised and validated movie clip intended to induce an emotional state – for the fear group, this was a scary movie, like The Sixth Sense or Silence of the Lambs; for the joy group, this was a positive documentary clip with subjects like forests or waterfalls; the neutral affect group watched a documentary clip on urban environments. Then, the subjects were asked hypothetical reward questions such as: “Would you rather have €20 000 today or €40 000 after 3 years?”

Women in the fear group were significantly more likely to use “delay discounting” when choosing financial rewards (selecting the immediate, smaller amount) compared to men in the fear group or women in the joy or neutral movie groups. There were no significant gender differences for decisions made across the joy or neutral movie groups, and men’s decision-making on monetary rewards appeared to be unaffected by their emotional state. The findings suggest that fear specifically might provoke different types of time-bound decision making for women versus men – the authors speculate these may be due to either differences in evolutionary strategies around safety versus risk, or different emotion-regulation approaches in stressful situations.

The authors note that the sample size and range of emotions studied here is relatively small compared to the real world. However, the suggestion that emotions (particularly negative ones such as fear) and gender do interact with regard to intertemporal choices warrants further investigation.

The authors add: “Women are more prone to choose immediate rewards when in a fearful emotional state than when in joyful one. Our research underscores the importance of gender as an influential factor in the interaction between emotions and decision-making processes.”

Age and Sex Associated with Patient’s Likelihood of Antimicrobial Resistance

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A person’s age, sex and location are correlated with the chance that they have a bloodstream infection that is resistant to antibiotics, according to a new study published March 14th in PLOS Medicine by Gwenan Knight of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and colleagues.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), in which infections cannot be treated with antibiotics, is a major global public health threat.

Little has been known about how the prevalence of resistance varies with age and sex even though antibiotic usage, changes in immune function, and exposure to high-risk settings are all linked to age and sex.

In the new study, researchers analyzed data collected as part of routine surveillance between 2015 and 2019 on bloodstream infections in 944,520 individuals across 29 European countries.

The team looked at which bacterial species were isolated and sent to the surveillance service, and which antibiotics were used to treat the infections.

Distinct patterns in resistance prevalence by age were observed throughout Europe but varied across bacterial species.

For most but not all bacteria, peaks in resistance were seen at the youngest and oldest ages.

The occurrence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) increased with age and the occurrence of aminopenicillin resistance in Escherichia coli decreased with age.

Some antimicrobial resistance profiles peaked in middle-age; Pseudomonas aeruginosa was most likely to be resistant to several antibiotics around 30 years of age and, for women, the incidence of bloodstream infections due to E. coli peaked between ages 15 and 40. There were other important differences between sexes; in general, men had a higher risk of antimicrobial resistance than women.

“These findings highlight important gaps in our knowledge of the epidemiology of antimicrobial resistance that are difficult to explain through known patterns of antibiotic exposure and healthcare contact,” the authors say.

“Our findings suggest that there may be value in considering interventions to reduce antimicrobial resistance burden that take into account important variations in antimicrobial resistance prevalence with age and sex.”

The authors add, “Our findings, that the prevalence of resistance in bloodstream infections across Europe varies substantially by age and sex, highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the spread and selection of AMR. In order for us to address this growing threat to public health, we now need data from a wider range of sources to determine the contribution that cultural versus natural history differences have in driving these patterns globally and the role that they play in the increasing rates of AMR being seen.”

Yoga Provides Unique Cognitive Benefits to Older Women at Risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

A new UCLA Health study found Kundalini yoga provided several benefits to cognition and memory for older women at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease including restoring neural pathways, preventing brain matter decline and reversing aging and inflammation-associated biomarkers – improvements not seen in a group who received standard memory training exercises.

The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, are the latest in a series of studies led by UCLA Health researchers over the past 15 years into the comparative effects of yoga and traditional memory enhancement training on slowing cognitive decline and addressing other risk factors of dementia.

Led by UCLA Health psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky of the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, this latest study sought to determine whether Kundalini yoga could be used early on to prevent cognitive decline and trajectories of Alzheimer’s disease among postmenopausal women.

Women have about twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to men due to several factors including longer life expectancy, changes in oestrogen levels during menopause and genetics.

In the new study, a group of more than 60 women ages 50 and older who had self-reported memory issues and cerebrovascular risk factors were recruited from a UCLA cardiology clinic. The women were divided evenly into two groups. The first group participated in weekly Kundalini yoga sessions for 12 weeks while the other one group underwent weekly memory enhancement training during the same time period. Participants were also provided daily homework assignments.

Kundalini yoga is a method that focuses on meditation and breath work more so than physical poses. Memory enhancement training developed by the UCLA Longevity centre includes a variety of exercises, such as using stories to remember items on a list or organising items on a grocery list, to help preserve or improve long-term memory of patients.

Researchers assessed the women’s cognition, subjective memory, depression and anxiety after the first 12 weeks and again 12 weeks later to determine how stable any improvements were. Blood samples were also taken to test for gene expression of aging markers and for molecules associated with inflammation, which are contributing factors to Alzheimer’s disease. A handful of patients were also assessed with MRIs to study changes in brain matter.

Researchers found the Kundalini yoga group participants saw several improvements not experienced by the memory enhancement training group. These included significant improvement in subjective memory complaints, prevention in brain matter declines, increased connectivity in the hippocampus which manages stress-related memories, and improvement in the peripheral cytokines and gene expression of anti-inflammatory and anti-aging molecules.

“That is what yoga is good for – to reduce stress, to improve brain health, subjective memory performance and reduce inflammation and improve neuroplasticity,” Lavretsky said.

Among the memory enhancement training group, the main improvements were found to be in the participants’ long-term memory.

Neither group saw changes in anxiety, depression, stress or resilience, though Lavretsky stated this is likely because the participants were relatively healthy and were not depressed.

While the long-term effects of Kundalini yoga on preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease require further study, Lavretsky said the study demonstrates that using yoga and memory training in tandem could provide more comprehensive benefits to the cognition of older women.

“Ideally, people should do both because they do train different parts of the brain and have different overall health effects,” Lavretsky said. “Yoga has this anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, anti-aging neuroplastic brain effect which would be complementary to memory training.”

Source: University of California – Los Angeles Health Sciences

Women Get the Same Exercise Benefits as Men, but with Less Effort

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A new study from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai shows there is a gender gap between women and men when it comes to exercise. The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), show that women can exercise less often than men, yet receive greater cardiovascular gains.

“Women have historically and statistically lagged behind men in engaging in meaningful exercise,” said Martha Gulati, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology in the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai, the Anita Dann Friedman Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine and Research and co-lead author of the study.

“The beauty of this study is learning that women can get more out of each minute of moderate to vigorous activity than men do. It’s an incentivising notion that we hope women will take to heart.”

Investigators analysed data from 412 413 US adults utilising the National Health Interview Survey database. Participants between the time frame of 1997 to 2019 – 55% of whom were female – provided survey data on leisure-time physical activity.

Investigators examined gender-specific outcomes in relation to frequency, duration, intensity and type of physical activity.

“For all adults engaging in any regular physical activity, compared to being inactive, mortality risk was expectedly lower,” said Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Health and Population Science, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute, and senior author of the study.

“Intriguingly, though, mortality risk was reduced by 24% in women and 15% in men.”

The research team then studied moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, and found that men reached their maximal survival benefit from doing this level of exercise for about five hours per week, whereas women achieved the same degree of survival benefit from exercising just under about 2 ½ hours per week.

Similarly, when it came to muscle-strengthening activity, such as weightlifting or core body exercises, men reached their peak benefit from doing three sessions per week and women gained the same amount of benefit from about one session per week.

Cheng said that women had even greater gains if they engaged in more than 2 ½ hours per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, or in two or more sessions per week of muscle-strengthening activities.

The investigators note their findings help to translate a longstanding recognition of sex-specific physiology seen in the exercise lab to a now-expanded view of sex differences in exercise-related clinical outcomes.

With all types of exercise and variables accounted for, Gulati says there’s power in recommendations based on the study’s findings.

“Men get a maximal survival benefit when performing 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, whereas women get the same benefit from 140 minutes per week,” Gulati said.

“Nonetheless, women continue to get further benefit for up to 300 minutes a week.”

Christine M. Albert, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Cardiology in the Smidt Heart Institute and the Lee and Harold Kapelovitz Distinguished Chair in Cardiology, says concrete, novel studies like this don’t happen often.

“I am hopeful that this pioneering research will motivate women who are not currently engaged in regular physical activity to understand that they are in a position to gain tremendous benefit for each increment of regular exercise they are able to invest in their longer-term health,” said Albert, professor of Cardiology.

Source: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

COVID, Opioid Pandemic Widen Gender Gap in Life Expectancy in the US

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Women have long been known to outlive men. But new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that, at least in the United States, the gap has been widening for more than a decade. Among the factors driving the trend are the COVID pandemic and the opioid overdose epidemic.

The study, led by UC San Francisco and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found the difference between how long American men and women live increased to 5.8 years in 2021, the largest since 1996. This is an increase from 4.8 years in 2010, when the gap was at its smallest in recent history.

The pandemic, which took a disproportionate toll on men, was the biggest contributor to the widening gap from 2019–2021, followed by unintentional injuries and poisonings (mostly drug overdoses), accidents and suicide.

“There’s been a lot of research into the decline in life expectancy in recent years, but no one has systematically analysed why the gap between men and women has been widening since 2010,” said the paper’s first author, Brandon Yan, MD, MPH, a UCSF internal medicine resident physician and research collaborator at Harvard Chan School.

Life expectancy in the US dropped in 2021 to 76.1 years, falling from 78.8 years in 2019 and 77 years in 2020.

The shortening lifespan of Americans has been attributed in part to so-called “deaths of despair.” The term refers to the increase in deaths from such causes as suicide, drug use disorders and alcoholic liver disease, which are often connected with economic hardship, depression and stress.

“While rates of death from drug overdose and homicide have climbed for both men and women, it is clear that men constitute an increasingly disproportionate share of these deaths,” Yan said.

Interventions to reverse a deadly trend

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Yan and fellow researchers from around the country identified the causes of death that were lowering life expectancy the most. Then they estimated the effects on men and women to see how much different causes were contributing to the gap.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, the largest contributors were unintentional injuries, diabetes, suicide, homicide and heart disease.

But during the pandemic, men were more likely to die of the virus. That was likely due to a number of reasons, including differences in health behaviours, as well as social factors, such as the risk of exposure at work, reluctance to seek medical care, incarceration and housing instability. Chronic metabolic disorders, mental illness and gun violence also contributed.

Yan said the results raise questions about whether more specialised care for men, such as in mental health, should be developed to address the growing disparity in life expectancy.

“We have brought insights to a worrisome trend,” Yan said. “Future research ought to help focus public health interventions towards helping reverse this decline in life expectancy.”

Yan and co-authors, including senior author Howard Koh, MD, MPH, professor of the practice of public health leadership at Harvard Chan School, also noted that further analysis is needed to see if these trends change after 2021.

“We need to track these trends closely as the pandemic recedes,” Koh said. “And we must make significant investments in prevention and care to ensure that this widening disparity, among many others, do not become entrenched.”

Source: University of California – San Francisco