Women are officially just as physically resilient as men

'Our findings contain some potentially myth-busting data on the impact of extreme physical activity on women'

Olivia Petter
Tuesday 20 November 2018 11:26

After centuries of being labelled "the weaker sex", it turns out that women are officially as physically tough as men, new research has found.

Debunking archaic stereotypes that present females as damsels in distress, the study found that women who completed a trans-antarctic expedition fared similarly to what would be expected of men in terms of health.

The research, presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Glasgow, is the first to suggest that with the right training, women are not more susceptible to health problems than men in extreme physical conditions.

The study examined six British army soldiers who trekked across Antarctica In January.

The all-female team, dubbed the Ice Maidens, were the first to complete the 62 day-long journey, which involved 1,056 miles of trekking in high winds and low temperatures while carrying 80kg of equipment.

Each participant underwent extensive physical training prior to embarking on the expedition and various markers of their health were measured by a team of doctors, such as stress levels, body weight, reproductive and metabolic hormone levels and bone strength.

Upon completing the trip, researchers found that markers of reproduction function and bone strength were preserved and participants were still seeing exercise-related benefits, ie maintaining an increased level of physical fitness as a result of the expedition, two weeks later.

Major Natalie Taylor was one of the women on the expedition team.

“We did very well,” the Wales-based medical officer said at the Defence Medical Innovation Conference in Birmingham in October.

"Physiologically we coped very well, so our bones were as strong as we left. Our hormones, there was a little dip but within two weeks our hormones were back to normal which is really good.”

Taylor added that while she and her comrades lost fat, they didn’t lose any muscle on their trip.

The study was led by Dr Robert Gifford from the University of Glasgow and colleagues from the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Centre for Defence.

"Our findings contain some potentially myth-busting data on the impact of extreme physical activity on women,” Gifford comments.

“We have shown that with appropriate training and preparation, many of the previously reported negative health effects can be avoided."

The evolutionary biologist added that the results could be useful in shedding light on how men and women differ in terms of coping with more everyday scenarios, such as working life.

"These findings could have important relevance for men and women in arduous or stressful employment, where there is concern that they are damaging their health,” he continues.

“If an appropriate training and nutritional regime is followed, their health may be protected."

The research comes one month after defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced that all roles in the British military are now open to women for the first time in history.

After the Ice Maidens had completed their trip, Williamson issued an official congratulatory statement, praising them as "heroic" and "formidable".

"They are an inspiration to us all and are role models to young people across the country," he continued.

"They truly demonstrate why the British Armed Forces are the best in the world, and show that with hard work, courage, and determination anything is possible. We are immensely proud of them and what they have achieved."

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments