The following article is a synthesis of current physiological research regarding women and physical activity with an emphasis on what that research means in regard to both performance and health. The first part is a discussion of the effects of heavy physical training on the menstrual cycle, with particular emphasis on the detrimental effects of hypoestrogenemia on bone. The second part of the paper is a discussion of the generally high prevalence of inactivity in American women and its relationship to the development of obesity, type II diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. The final section of the paper consists of a call for interdisciplinary and collaborative research by women investigators on issues of major importance to women.
Christine L. Wells and Steven P. Hooker
Physiological variables identified as important factors in athletic performance are discussed in relation to the spinal cord injured (SCI) athlete. These include body composition, pulmonary function, cardiorespiratory efficiency, muscular strength and endurance, and anaerobic power. SCI athletes are less fat and have a larger lean body mass than nonathletes, and male SCI are less fat than female SCI. Static lung volumes are usually below normal values in SCI subjects, but athletic SCI subjects tend to have higher values than sedentary SCI. Sedentary SCI subjects have lower aerobic power (O2max) than the general able-bodied (AB) sedentary population on tests of arm cranking or wheelchair ergometry. Low-lesion paraplegics generally achieve O2max values comparable to AB subjects. O2max is inversely related to level of injury, that is, the higher the SCI, the lower the O2max. However, elite SCI athletes are capable of achieving very high levels of O2max during arm exercise. SCI subjects respond well to strength and muscular endurance training. Paraplegic subjects achieve higher anaerobic power scores than quadriplegic subjects. Increases in O2max occur at about the same magnitude as in AB subjects. The required intensity level appears to be about 70–80% of maximal heart rate reserve.
Lynda B. Ransdell and Christine L. Wells
Do women out-perform men in endurance sports? Are women as strong, pound for pound, as men? Many questions have been raised about the ability of women and men to perform physical tasks equally well. The issue of sex differences and similarities in performance has considerable significance today as women seek physically demanding careers in police-work, fire-fighting, the military, industry, and athletics. As more women participate in recreational and career opportunities formerly open only to men, knowledge about sex differences in response to physical exertion and training becomes increasingly important. In this paper we describes differences between the sexes in athletic performance.
Most performance differences are due to variations in morphological (structural) or physiological characteristics typical of women and men (Wells, 1991). Nevertheless, variations in these characteristics are often as large or larger within each sex as they are between the sexes. The same is true of physical performance. Thus, when the entire population is considered, there are extensive differences in performance within each sex, and considerable overlap in performance between the sexes.
We will base our examination of performance differences on the most outstanding performances of each sex: those exemplified by World Records in athletic events. We seek to answer such questions as: How large are sex differences in world record performances? Can existing performance differences be explained entirely by biological differences between the sexes? Or, are a large portion of these performance differ-ences attributable to sociocultural factors?
We will analyze sex differences in performance relative to the human energy system. This system allows an extraordinary range of mechanisms for neuromuscular coordination and metabolism. Because of this, the human has a virtually unlimited movement repertoire and is capable of movements requiring large bursts of energy over very brief periods of time, as well as movements requiring low levels of energy production over very long periods of time. We will progress from sports that require very high intensity and explosive quality movements such as jumping and power lifting, through the “energy spectrum” to feats of endurance such as marathon running, ultra-distance triathlon, and open-water distance swimming.
Due to our desire to focus this paper on a reasonable amount of data, our analysis will be limited as follows:
1) for sex differences in high intensity-brief duration, explosive per-formance, we will discuss the high jump, long jump, and various mea-sures of strength (powerlifting),
2) for sex differences in high intensity-short duration performance, we will present data on sprint running (100m, 400m) and swimming (100m),
3) for sex differences in moderate intensity-moderate duration performance, we will discuss middle-distance running (1500m, 5000m, 10,000m), and swimming (1500m), and
4) for differences in low intensity-long duration performance, we will discuss the marathon, the "Ironman Triathlon," and open ocean distance swimming.
Christine L. Wells and Cynthia L. Shoenhair
Traditional medical advice to pregnant women in the U.S. has discouraged exercise. This restrictive attitude has denied many women an essential healthful behavior at an important period of their lives. Regular physical activity is a behavior to which the human body has adapted over millions of years of evolution. It is a behavior that is as vital, safe, and natural during pregnancy as at any other time. We maintain that healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies can perform regular upright moderate intensity exercise (50-65% VO2 max) as well as upright vigorous exercise (65-85% VO2max), without endangering themselves or compromising fetal well-being. We further maintain that they should be encouraged to do so regularly. Exercise prescription should be individualized, and not based on arbitrary standards.
Lynda B. Ransdell and Christine L. Wells
Women’s running has made significant gains during the past century. The Feminine Sportive Federation International, an international organization for women in sport, was an early advocate for women’s running. They lobbied for the inclusion of 5 new women’s events in the 1928 Olympics, the longest of which was 800 meters. Unfortunately, some competitors in the 800 m event collapsed, providing “rationale” for excluding women from distance racing (Noakes, 1991). Later, the 800 meter event was re-introduced in the 1960 Olympics, and so the interest in “women’s distance running” was re-kindled. Women continued to call for greater challenges, and eventually in 1972, they were officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon (Noakes, 1991). Today, distances of 5,10, and 42 kilometers make up the majority of road races throughout the country. These events are not limited to top-flight women athletes racing for fame and fortune or a chance to represent America in the Olympic Games. Rather, thousands of women—of all shapes, running styles and fitness levels—enter these weekend races, most with little hope of winning a prize.
Currently, women runners are recognized at the national level as “open” (any age) or “masters” (40 years of age and older) competitors. This separation is important because performance varies with age. How age affects performance depends upon a number of factors including overall health, injury status, training, and genetic endowment. Considerable individual variability exists, but at some point in middle-age, performance declines. Although equal performance is not likely from outstanding 45 year old and 25 year old competitors, each may be considered an “elite” performer when competition is separated into age groups. The separation of athletes into masters and open categories and further into age groups results in opportunities for many to receive recognition, and for competitors to set and achieve goals relative to their age. Age-group competition has attracted thousands and thousands of “new” runners and encouraged former competitors to “stay with it for a few more years.”
Very little is known about women who run at the “masters” level. There is general information about how aging affects the male athlete’s performance, but little information about how aging affects women’s performances. This paper is a review of the literature on masters women runners and a description of 1) their physical and physiological characteristics, 2) their performance, 3) their performance decline with advancing age, and 4) the health related benefits of physical activity.