Women Use More Oxygen for Breathing

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WEDNESDAY, Feb. 4, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Muscles that control breathing require more oxygen in women than in men, a new study has found.

The findings could prove important in the treatment of lung disorders, the Canadian researchers said.

They tested men and women during exercise and discovered that the muscles needed for breathing -- such as the diaphragm and those surrounding the ribcage -- consumed more oxygen in women than in men.

That means that women use more energy when breathing because a greater portion of their oxygen is used by the respiratory muscles, explained the authors of the study, which was published Feb. 3 in the Journal of Physiology.

"During exercise we need to breathe more often, and as a consequence, the respiratory muscles need to work harder and use a lot of energy. Our findings are important because they show that the metabolic cost of breathing during exercise is higher in healthy young women," lead investigator William Sheel, a professor from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said in a journal news release.

"Our findings suggest that if women have a greater oxygen cost of breathing, they likely dedicate a greater amount of blood flow towards their respiratory muscles during maximal exercise. Hence, their physical performance may be less because of a reduced blood flow to the leg muscles, but this still needs to be tested," he explained.

"Future studies could investigate whether the higher oxygen cost indeed has an influence on leg blood flow, cardiac output and skeletal muscle fatigue. This may also play a role in lung diseases," Sheel said.

"A reduced lung capacity together with harder working muscles may lead to a higher energy demand, which could be greater in women. Sex differences in exercise responses could therefore be important for clinical management of people with lung disorders," he concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about breathing.