Summer battle of the sexes? No

Posted: June 19, 2014

THIS SATURDAY is the summer solstice, which marks the official beginning of summer.

After the tough winter we had, I know what you're thinking . . . hot fun in the summertime, right?

At the gym, I've noticed an uptick in participation, and more people are feverishly trying to get in summer shape.

I think it's terrific that the summer is inspiring more people to get into shape, but a recent discussion I had with a woman who was competing with her husband in a weight-loss competition raised a few red flags.

She wanted to know how she could accelerate her weight loss, simultaneously tone up and outdo her man. Without hesitation, I told her to forget about competing with her husband and to only compete against her own best efforts.

When she pressed me for an explanation, I said, "Look, John Gray, the author of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, was right. Whether we like it or not, there are gender differences: hormonal differences, psychological differences, physiological differences, and men and women respond differently to exercise and weight loss."

All things being equal, men simply have the advantage over women when it comes to exercise and weight loss. On average, men typically burn about 30 percent more calories than women. That means if you and your husband go on the same fitness and weight-loss plan, he will likely reach his goal a lot sooner than you.

Put another way, if you and your man go for a 5-mile jog, he'll burn about 650 calories and you will burn about 500. That extra 150 calories may not seem significant but when you add it up over the course of a year, that equals about 16 extra pounds lost.

The primary reason this occurs is simple. Most men naturally have more muscle, which is metabolically active tissue, and men naturally have more testosterone. The average adult male produces 15 to 20 times the amount of testosterone that the average adult female produces. That's a significant difference, and one that Mother Nature obviously intended.

Also, men typically have bigger muscles and weigh more, and the more muscular you are, guess what . . . the more calories you burn. Not just during exercise, but at rest, too.

Then there are other less obvious things, like men have been socialized to strength train, while many women still tend to shy away from the iron. Men are also socialized to be generally more active and are quick to participate in pickup games of basketball, soccer or football. Women, on the other hand, tend to gravitate more exclusively to aerobics, dance or spin classes (all great exercises for the heart, but they do little for strengthening and toning).

And just in case you need more convincing, here are some more noteworthy gender differences:

* Beginning at puberty, a boy typically has 10 percent body fat, while a girl typically has 20 percent.

* Men typically have 50 percent more muscle mass than women.

* Men have more bone mass, and their narrow hips make them more efficient runners.

* Men are stronger than women even when their weight is the same.

* Men typically have an advantage in strength, speed and power over women.

* Men have the upper hand aerobically with their 25 to 30 percent greater lung capacity.

* A man's heart is also typically 25 percent larger, which gives him a lower resting heart rate, which delays fatigue and quickens recovery.

So, when it comes to exercise and weight loss, forget about competing with your man (or with anyone for that matter). Far too often we get caught up in competing with others, and lose sight of our original goals. But the truth is, you are your only competition.

Kimberly Garrison's column appears Wednesdays.

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