A new study finds women experience greater shortness of breath during physical activity than men of a similar age. 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."
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Dr Jensen explains how the research was carried out: "50 healthy, non-smoking men and women aged 20-40 years completed a maximum exercise test on a stationary bicycle." During exercise, we monitored the participants cardiovascular, metabolic and ventilatory responses to exercise using computerized equipment.
"At regular intervals during exercise, participants rated the intensity of their breathlessness using a 10-point scale. Using a multipair electrode catheter placed in the participants' oesophagus, we also recorded the electromyogram of the diaphragm (an index of the drive to breathe that presumably originates in the central nervous system) throughout exercise. These measurements were then analysed and compared between men and women."
Future research is needed to extend the findings to other groups of men and women, such as those that are overweight or obese.