Couch Potatoes Run Greater Risk of Injury
March 16, 2000 (Los Angeles) -- Women may be at higher risk for
sports-related injuries than men simply because they are less fit, according to
a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. "The key
risk factor for training injuries appears to be physical fitness, particularly
cardiovascular fitness," not gender, the authors write.
Lead author Nicole Bell, ScD, MPH, and colleagues followed more than 500
male and more than 350 female Army recruits through a standard eight-week basic
training course. They evaluated physical fitness levels by measuring times for
both a one- and a two-mile run and by measuring the number of sit-ups and
push-ups each person could do at the beginning and at the end of the course.
During the eight weeks, the women experienced twice as many injuries as the
men, including nearly 2.5 times as many serious injuries requiring significant
loss of time.
However, gender differences diminished when the investigators classified
injury risk according to level of fitness. Among the fastest women runners, the
risk of injury was nearly identical to that of the fastest men, and with each
descending level of fitness, as measured by run time, the risk of injury
remained similar between the sexes.
"The military draws from the general population, so what we can say is
that a lot of women are getting hurt because there are a lot of unfit women in
the general population," Bell tells WebMD.
By the end of the training cycle, the women had narrowed the fitness gap
considerably, making significantly greater improvements than did the men.
According to Bell and her colleagues, these findings support previous studies
showing that people who start training at a lower level of fitness improve more
dramatically, relative to those who were in better condition to begin with.
A parallel in civilian life can be seen in the "weekend warrior,"
who is sedentary all week and then injures herself during a weekend tennis
game, says Janet Freedman, MD, assistant professor of rehabilitative medicine
at New York University and author of the chapter on exercise in The Complete
Women's Healthbook, published by the American Medical Women's Association.
"We tell people that they need to be in better shape to do the
activity." Freedman, who was not involved in the study, encourages her
patients to pursue a regular exercise program during the week so they are fit
enough to engage in weekend sports.
"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."