As the number of women athletes have increased over the years, so have the number of studies investigating the physiological effects of exercise for women.

Sports activities provide both physiological and psychological benefits for men and women.

In training programs, it has been shown that the psysiological effects of aerobic conditioning are the same for men and women, and the maximal heart rate shows little or no difference. There is a difference, however, in strength -- primarily due to the anabolic effect of testosterone in the male's muscular system. It is, therefore, most important for the female athlete to increase muscle strength.

For the untrained female, strength training is recommended three to four days a week, 20 to 60 minutes each time.

Studies have shown that sports-related injuries involving overuse of muscles and joints are higher in women. It is thought that the woman's wider hips may cause foot, ankle, knee and lower back problems as the wider outward foot position may cause a greater amount of pronation (rolling of the foot toward the midline of the body).

Also, plantar fasciitis -- inflammation of thick tissue on the bottom of the foot -- usually occurs more often in women than in men. The injury is usually caused by stress and overuse of the plantar fascia tissue. Occasionally, tears and complete ruptures of the tissue occur.

The most common symptoms are pain in the heel, difficulty walking and stiffness in the foot. It is important to have the biomechanical foot imbalances evaluated and possibly treated with orthotics (shoe inserts) for better balance and prevention of foot, leg and lower back problems.

Dr. Robert Weiss lives in Westport and has a sports-podiatry practice in Darien. He is a former marathon runner and was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and the 1988 Olympic Trials.