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"These women were not as fit as they could have been, so we would expect to see dramatic improvements, especially in cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength," says Denise Smith, PhD, associate professor and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y, in an interview with WebMD. "Americans are simply not getting enough activity, and we're eating too many high-fat foods."

Women who begin an exercise program should use their ability to run or move fast to gauge their general level of fitness, says Bell, who is vice president of a private research company in Natick, Mass.

"This will help you assess your risk of injury," says Smith. Women should measure their waist and abdomen regularly, since "changes in abdominal size are more important than weight from a health standpoint." She says when you start an exercise program, "pay attention to how fast you're walking or running. See how long it takes you to do a mile, and check yourself periodically every few months. That could be a tremendous motivating factor. Sometimes you don't realize how much progress you're making."

Vital Information:

  • A new study shows that women are at higher risk of sports-related injuries than men because they are less fit, not because they are female.
  • In a study of military recruits going through basic training, women were twice as likely as men to suffer injuries.
  • When researchers adjusted for fitness level, they found that the most fit men and the most fit women had similar rates of injury, and with descending levels of fitness, the injury rate increased similarly in both groups.

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