Ice Maidens

These women made an unprecedented trek across Antarctica — and busted a dated gender myth in the process

The Ice Maidens at the South Pole. (Twitter / The British Army)

A study that tracked the health of the first all-women team to ski across Antarctica has forced scientists to re-evaluate a longstanding belief that women struggle with extreme endurance exercise compared to men. While earlier studies had indicated that extreme exertion in women led to side effects such as reproductive hormone suppression, elevated levels of stress hormones, and impaired bone strength, these results have been cast into doubt after a six-woman team from the British army skied more than 1,000 miles while pulling 170-pound sledges behind them over a two-month period beginning in late 2017 and ending in early 2018. The women completed the epic trek without suffering any adverse effects at all.

“Our findings contain some potentially myth-busting data on the impact of extreme physical activity on women,” explained lead study author Dr. Robert Gifford of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science. “We have shown that with appropriate training and preparation, many of the previously reported negative health effects [of extreme exercise on women] can be avoided.”

Over the course of the Ice Maiden team’s two-month journey, researchers said that the women — Major Nics Wetherill, Major Nat Taylor, Major Sandy Hennis, Lieutenant Jenni Stephenson, Lance Sergeant Sophie Montagne, and Captain Zanna Baker — lost about 20 pounds of fat each, but didn’t lose any lean muscle mass. Markers for hormonal and bone health were largely unaffected by the trip, and the changes that did occur returned to normal shortly after the women’s return home. According to the researchers, the key factor seems to be that the Ice Maidens were already in excellent condition ahead of the trip — women who have trained sufficiently, the researchers said, should have no concerns about adverse health effects if they were to pursue similar feats of endurance.

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

Read the full story at Live Science.

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