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Women have to compensate for smaller lungs
Thursday, 05 December 2013 00:00
The reason women find it harder to breathe than men during exercise is due to greater electrical activation of their breathing muscles, states a new study published in the journal Experimental Physiology.
It is well established that women experience greater shortness of breath during physical activity, from stair climbing to long-distance running, than men of a similar age. This is true in healthy young and older adults, as well as in patients with chronic heart and lung disease. This study is the first to explain why this happens.
Dr Dennis Jensen, who led the study at McGill University, Canada, says: “Our study uniquely showed that sex differences in activity-related breathlessness could be explained by the awareness of greater electrical activation of the respiratory muscles – specifically the diaphragm – needed to achieve any given ventilation during exercise in healthy young women compared to men.
“Our findings indicated that greater electrical activation of the respiratory muscles during exercise in women is needed to compensate for their biologically smaller lungs, airways and breathing muscles.”
This information could be used by researchers and healthcare providers to help identify new treatments to relieve the symptoms of breathlessness and improve exercise capacity for groups such as the elderly and patients with chronic heart and lung disease.