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Why Men Breathe More Easily Than Women When Exercising

Gender differences impact airway size.

Breathing during exercise

Women, on average, have a more difficult time breathing during vigorous exercise because their airways are smaller, according to findings published in The FASEB Journal (2020; doi:10.1096/fasebj.2020.34.s1.05355). This may help explain why women experience airway disorders like asthma differently from men.

“The amount of work the respiratory muscles have to do to breathe a given volume is greater in women,” said Paolo Dominelli, PhD, principal study investigator and assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. “It is thought that this is due to women having smaller airways than men, which causes the airflow resistance to be higher.”

Researchers note that this gender difference is a generalization; airway size can differ among individuals. For example, while men on average have larger airways, a man and a woman of similar height may have similarly sized airways.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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