Dare we say it? Women and men are equal but…vastly different! Especially when it comes to certain aspects of health and wellness.
Yes, it’s true that human bodies need the same basic micro and macronutrients, some activity or exercise, and good mental health, but the path to these essentials varies depending on what you’ve got in yo’ pants.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key contrasts women need to watch out for.
Working Out How to Work Out
It’s long been known that men and women gain fat differently (men in the middle and women below the waist), but what’s not often talked about in workout plans is that we also lose it differently.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way: thanks to our hormones, women’s bodies are biologically programmed to store fat (just in case of pregnancy – thanks body!), so we’ve got to be vigilant about getting off the sofa a few times a week.
But here are some not-so-negative differences:
- Studies have found that when on an exercise plan, men tend to lose weight first in the abdominal region, then in the arms, and finally in the legs and lower body. Women tend to lose weight in the arms first, then the ab area, and finally in the legs. Which means you shouldn’t be discouraged if your male training partner gets to that flat tummy earlier than you!
- The type of muscle fibres that women have make us more resistant to fatigue, which means we’re less likely to hit that wall of exhaustion in a workout than men, and because we have lower levels of testosterone, we can do a lot of strength training without worrying about getting too “bulky” (good news for most of us, bad news for female bodybuilders).
- According to a study at McMaster University, women burn more fat, fewer carbohydrates, and less protein than men at the same exercise intensity. This means that women don’t need as much carbohydrate or protein in their diet as men to fuel their exercise sessions.
- Also, don’t be afraid to lift weights – it’s crucial for bone health (which women need to look out for).
- Another lucky break – this study shows that mood improvements after cardio (aerobic exercise) are higher in women than men!
- And last but not least, we just can’t ignore that menstrual cycle. The hormone differences during different phases of your cycle can really affect women’s training. In the two weeks before ovulation, you’re more tolerant of pain and have better endurance, so go for it on that elliptical! During ovulation, you’re at your strongest physically, so it’s a perfect time to lift weights. And in the second half of your cycle, between ovulation and your period you’re more likely to feel tired and irritable, with low energy and higher cravings, so this is a great time for lighter training and ‘active recovery’ – think gentle yoga and long walks.
All in the Mind
Jokes about women’s superior minds aside, the differences in women’s mental health are really worth shining a light on. For starters, roughly one in five people in North America are likely to suffer from some form of mental illness, but the rate for many of these issues is much higher in women. In fact, when it comes to one of the most common threats – depression – the World Health Organization reports that women are twice as likely to be affected thanks to a combination of social, biological and environmental factors.
Research has also found that women are more than twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder (the theory is that women are taught to internalize thoughts and emotions) twice as likely to suffer from PTSD than men, and twice as likely to be affected by an eating disorder. In the same vein, of people with phobias or OCD, around 60% are female.
But wait! Before these statistics make you feel like switching on Beyoncé’s “If I were a boy”, consider this: these numbers are based on reported, documented mental health stats, which means that for many conditions, it may not necessarily be that women are affected more, but that women consult medical professionals, get diagnosed, and seek treatment more frequently than men, and that, my friends, is a trend that we need to encourage.
Another plus? Many preventative and helpful mental health activities – social exercise classes, meditation, self-help books and confiding in friends are often more common and ‘accepted’ in female circles than male, so grab your sisters from other misters and hit up that yoga class before venting over a green smoothie, it’s good for you in more ways than one.
First, let’s just skip over the controversy about whether you need a daily multivitamin at all (we’ll assume you’re not quite there with the ideal plant-packed diet just yet.) While browsing the supplement shelves, you may have seen a “women’s multivitamin” and wondered if it was as questionable as those higher priced pink “lady razors”.
Don’t judge too quickly, a good female multivitamin will have a few main differences from a one-size-fits-all pill. Here’s the crash course:
- It’s generally recommended that pre-menopausal women need around twice as much iron as men since we lose a whole lot of it once a month (sigh, do the “benefits” of periods never end…) and are more likely to be anemic. Bonus benefit – iron and zinc supplements have been shown to improve memory and cognition!
- As we get older, women also need more calcium than men to preserve bone strength (women run a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than men, particularly after menopause, because our estrogen levels are lower.)
- Research also tells us that adequate levels of vitamin D are also important to help absorb that calcium.
- Pre-natal vitamins are a whole other story, and way more important than the regular daily gummies you might take before jumping on the baby train. Folic acid, Calcium, Iodine, and Iron are all included to help ensure a healthy pregnancy, and you gotta start thinking about that months before you get down to business in bed!
A final silver lining to remember is that knowledge is empowerment, and with it, we can keep a close eye on ourselves and the women around us. Being proactive on the physical and mental front and reaching out for help as soon as it’s needed.
Because let’s admit it, when you balance out those pros and cons, being a woman is just so much damn fun.