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The Globe and Mail

Is it really harder for women to lose weight?

Johanna McLellan at CYKL spinning studio in Toronto

Tim Fraser for The Globe and Mail/tim fraser The Globe and Mail

QUESTION: Is it true that it's harder for women than men to lose weight because of the different composition of their muscle mass?

ANSWER: It's generally true that losing weight can be more of a challenge for women than men because of their different muscle composition.

It has a lot to do with muscle mass. Men naturally have more muscle mass and larger muscle fibres than women, resulting in a higher metabolic rate.

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In fact, researchers from Syracuse University looked at the energy expenditure of men and women while running and walking a distance of 1,600 metres at the same speed. They found that men burned an average of 124 calories when running and 88 calories when walking, whereas women burned an average of 105 calories when running and 74 calories when walking. What exactly does this mean? It means men can burn calories faster than women, giving them the ability to lose weight quicker.

But don't worry. There's a lot women can do to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Combining cardiovascular exercise, resistance training and a healthy diet is the best way to lose a few extra pounds. Women often shy away from weight training for fear they may bulk up. But because their body type is not predisposed to forming large muscles, there's no need for concern.

It's important to keep in mind that physical activity brings a multitude of benefits - besides seeing a lower number on the scale.

Exercise can help control blood sugar, prevent injuries, keep your bones strong, ease stress and build confidence. What's more, research has shown that over time exercise can lower blood pressure and help prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer.

Success is really about changing your lifestyle. Start by seeking advice from a health-care professional before beginning any fitness program. Set realistic and specific weight-loss goals to help you commit to living a healthy lifestyle.

Most important, make sure to stick to your goals. Schedule your workouts as you would any other appointment, and build a support network by sharing your goals with family and friends. Women often report that they are too busy to commit to a healthy lifestyle, so having a network of people who support them is key.

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Integrating exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle will ensure safe and healthy weight loss. And remember, weight loss is not a race. It should be done safely and over time.

For tips on how to overcome common barriers to healthy living, visit Health Canada's website at www.hc-sc.gc.ca

A useful handbook called Canada's Physical Activity Guide To Healthy Active Living can be accessed online through www.publichealth.gc.ca. Simply select the Health Promotion tab and scroll down to the physical activity guide.

And for information with a focus on women, visit www.womenshealthmatters.ca

Shelley Sharma-Thakrar is a physiotherapist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

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