Weaker than men? These Antarctica-conquering women beg to differ
British soldiers dispel notion that women are more susceptible to the negative effects of physical exertion
Women have long been viewed as the physically weaker sex. But a study suggests the notion that females aren’t as physically capable as men is outdated and that, with training, women are just as resilient as their male counterparts.
After testing six British female soldiers who trekked across Antarctica, researchers found that they showed no more negative health effects than would be expected in men. The all-women team underwent extreme physical preparation for their expedition and, once on the ice, spent 62 days battling high winds and low temperatures to trek 1,700km while dragging sledges weighing 80kg.
The study is the first to suggest that women are not more susceptible to the negative effects of physical exertion and that, with appropriate training, they can be as resilient as men in undertaking arduous physical activity.
Research by Dr Robert Gifford from the University of Glasgow and scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Centre for Defence monitored several markers of the women’s health before and after the successful expedition. These included indicators of stress, reproductive and metabolic hormone levels, body weight and bone strength.
The findings, presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Glasgow, indicated not only that markers of reproductive function and bone strength were preserved, but also that some markers showed evidence of delayed, exercise-related benefit to their physical fitness two weeks after.
Gifford said: “Our findings contain some potentially myth-busting data on the impact of extreme physical activity on women. We have shown that with appropriate training and preparation, many previously reported negative health effects can be avoided.
Speaking at the defence medical innovation conference in Birmingham, Major Natalie Taylor said of the group’s efforts: “We did very well. 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.
“We also found that we lost fat, not lean mass. We didn’t lose any kind of muscle. Which is good because that’s what we gained before we went.”
The findings come after Gavin Williamson, the UK defence secretary, announced last month that all roles in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, including frontline infantry units and the Special Air Service, are now open to female recruits. Next year, after preliminary fitness tests and interviews, up to 20 women are expected to undertake the gruelling 32-week training course at the Royal Marines commando training centre in Lympstone, Devon.
The recruits will train to exactly the same standards as their male colleagues and aim to serve as regular Royal Marines.
A defence ministry spokesman added: “Women have already given exemplary service in recent conflicts, working in a variety of highly specialised and vital roles. By opening all combat roles to women, we will continue to build on these successes and improve the operational capability of our military.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited