Ever heard the old saying that men sweat but women just "glisten"?

Any woman who believes this outmoded concept is missing out on an energizing source of health and vitality: exercise. A regular exercise program is beneficial for women as well as for men. Studies show that exercise unquestionably brings health benefits, including decreased risk of death from heart disease as well as from all other causes.

So what exactly is a "regular exercise program"? The Centers for Disease Control and American College of Sports Medicine recommend aerobic exercise for 30 minutes or more most, if not all, days, of the week. They also recommend adding resistance training twice a week. So far, so good. But what exactly is aerobic exercise, and what is resistance training?

Aerobic exercise involves rhythmically using one or more of the major muscle groups and helps strengthen the heart and lungs. Good examples include brisk walking, jogging, square dancing, swimming, water aerobics, bicycling, aerobic dance classes, folk dancing, rowing, stair-stepping, cross country skiing, and doing calisthenics. In resistance training muscles contract against some form of resistance, often in the form of a weight or a large, elastic exercise band. The muscles have to work harder against whatever resistance that is provided. Resistance training may also be called strength training or anaerobic training.

Check out the current recommendations for healthy exercise

Aerobic exercise

  • What it is: Movement of all major muscle groups simultaneously. This brings oxygen to muscle cells.
  • How much? 30 – 40 minutes
  • How often? Almost every day
  • Strength training (also called resistance training)
  • What it is: Repeated movement of a muscle using weights or another form of resistance
  • How much? Two to three sets of 10–12 repetitions of exercises that target major muscle groups
  • How often? Two times per week, at least

Benefits of exercising regularly include reduced blood pressure levels, better control of cholesterol and better control of blood sugar levels, which is helpful in avoiding or managing diabetes. This is especially true of aerobic exercise. In addition, people who exercise usually experience a decrease in body weight and body fat. All these add up to a reduced risk of heart attack and death.

The advantages of exercise extend beyond the physical to better mental health as well. Studies show that regular exercise leads to better concentration, higher self-esteem, and better moods, with less tension, anger and depression. In addition, women seem to get extra health benefits from exercise, compared to men. Some studies have suggested that regular exercise seems to improve bone density, an important way of fighting osteoporosis (bone loss), which affects many postmenopausal women. Exercise can also help to regulate menstrual cycles.

So if your instincts, or your neighbor, or your mother says it's unfeminine to work up a sweat, just smile sweetly and say "Not anymore!"

Note: The frequency and intensity at which you should exercise will vary with your age and general health.
Anyone planning to start a regular exercise program should see a doctor first.

To make an appointment with an exercise specialist or to join a cardiac rehabilitation program, contact the Cleveland Clinic Preventive Cardiology - 216.444.9353 or 800.223.2273 ext. 49353.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/01/2019.

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