The Ice Maidens in Antarctica
Health and Fitness

Army Women Endured Polar Expedition Better Than Men, Study Finds

The Ice Maidens in Antarctica

Picture courtesy of the British Army.

Six female soldiers who skied across the Antarctica continent were better able to cope with the extreme conditions than those of men who also made the journey, scientists have found.

Medical researchers accompanied the 'Ice Maidens' on their 1,700km trek coast-to-coast, monitoring their endurance and physical fitness along the way.

They are now providing essential data and information on how the female body responds to arduous training conditions.

The six women were fitted with sensors inside their sports bras which measured their heart rates, body temperatures, sugar and exertion levels.

Reflecting on the findings at the Defence Medical Innovation Conference in Birmingham, Major Natalie Taylor said: "We did very well.

"Physiologically we coped very well, so our bones were as strong as we left. Our hormones, there was a little dip but within two weeks our hormones were back to normal which is really good.

"We also found that we lost fat, not lean mass.

"We didn’t lose any kind of muscle. Which is good because that’s what we gained before we went.”

The Ice Maidens on their trek through Antarctica
The Ice Maidens were the first all-female team to walk across the frozen continent (Picture: British Army).

Results from previous expeditions – mostly made up of men and civilian women – found participants had lost a considerable amount more body mass than the Ice Maidens.

With restrictions lifted on women in combat roles on the frontline, defence medicine is keen to use these findings to understand more about how the female body responds to harsh conditions.

It took the group 61 days to cross the frozen continent from coast to coast.
It took the group 61 days to cross the frozen continent from coast to coast (Picture: British Army).

Lieutenant General Martin Bricknell, Surgeon General, told Forces News: "What this allows us to do is conduct research that is militarily relevant.

"(The findings help) understand the strengths and vulnerabilities in each gender and then make sure we as an employer can give everybody the best opportunity in their role, independent of gender.

"This is just one bit of science that allows us to understand that women have many strengths compared to men." 

The results from the Ice Maiden expedition is now being used to try and develop training programmes to accommodate women's different physiological responses.