This month, we will discuss training during your menstrual cycle. What are the benefits and things to avoid?
Exercising while on your period might seem like a counterintuitive thing to do, but it can help alleviate menstrual symptoms. There are, however, some limitations to be aware of.
Everyone is different and has different symptoms and lengths of their menstrual cycle. Some women experience very heavy periods, while some don't even notice that they are due.
Exercise can help promote a healthy lifestyle for most people. This can be especially important when it comes to hormonal balance. Some exercises and techniques can be beneficial during your period, and others should be avoided during this time.
Benefits of exercising during your period
Exercise is often the last thing anyone wants to do when they’re on their period, and there are various myths about exercise in general. But doing some light exercise on your period has been proven to alleviate many symptoms such as (1-3):
These are just a few of the benefits you could experience while exercising during your period. In addition, general physical fitness is important for health and can reduce the risk of serious medical issues such as heart attack, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, and diabetes (1-2) Exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous nor happen every day to help. A recent study found that exercise can help with at least 30 chronic diseases (2). There are physical and chemical changes that occur in the body during menstruation that can be alleviated through exercise. In fact, exercise can increase the production of endorphins (“feel-good hormones”) and reduce anxiety, depression, and pain, improving your mood.
Best exercises to do on your period
Most people would suggest that during your period, it’s better to do the exercises you can tolerate, that are good for your body and that you like to do. For many people, the first day or two of their period maybe not the best time to exercise. This is typically due to a heavier flow. During this time, you may feel more comfortable exercising at home. If the first few days of your periods are difficult, take it easy and make modifications to your workouts as needed. So, what are the best exercises to do on your period? Here are a few suggestions:
Walking: This is an easy exercise that doesn’t require any special equipment, clothing, or location. You can take as much time as you have or need, and you can adjust your speed however you want.
Light cardio or aerobic exercise: This is not meant to be a stressful workout. The keyword here is “light.” Whether you’re jogging, cycling, swimming, or anything else, take it easy and/or consider a shorter workout than normal.
Strength training: If you’re up for it, try some gentle strengthening exercises and consider lighter weights than you might normally use. Avoid heavy-duty lifting at this time in your cycle.
Gentle stretching and balancing: Yoga is great for relaxing the muscles and decreasing cramps and pain. Pilates is good for stretching muscles and reducing cramps and pain. Tai chi is good for reducing tension and stress.
Every client is different and this is obviously going to depend on the individual, if you are not experiencing heavy periods and unbearable pain, you can keep doing the exact same exercises that you have been doing prior to your cycle.
Exercising while on your period: Things to avoid
Exercising during your period shouldn’t put additional stress on the body, cause pain, or interfere with the normal process of your cycle. Exercise during your period can be beneficial, but there are certain things to avoid, including the following:
Strenuous or prolonged exercise might not be good for the body when you are menstruating. This doesn’t mean you have to stop your normal training, but be cautious. One study found that 60 minutes of moderate to intense exercise during menstruation caused exercise-induced inflammation.
Inversion-type yoga poses are thought by some to pull the uterus toward the head. Although there’s no scientific evidence for this theory, some believe that this can cause the broad ligaments that support the uterus to stretch and compress the veins that carry blood away from the uterus. This can lead to vascular congestion and increased bleeding because the arteries that supply the uterus continue to pump blood into the area.
Lastly, if you feel unusually fatigued, nauseous, or there is an increase in pain or discomfort, stop what you are doing and rest. If these symptoms continue, stop completely. Ignore the saying “no pain, no gain.” Listen to your body.
Period hygiene when exercising
Hygiene during your period is important, including while you’re exercising. Here are a few basic rules. First, choose period products that you’re comfortable with. If you’re concerned about leaks while exercising during your period, then you might choose to use a tampon. However, if you don’t normally use tampons, this is not the time to try them out. They can be distracting or painful if not inserted correctly.
Other period products, like pads, menstrual cups, and discs, work just as well or even better than tampons for some people. You can also combine some of these products to keep your underwear from getting stained. Use whatever works best for you. It is a good idea to carry period products with you when you exercise just in case your period starts earlier than expected. This can be caused by hormonal fluctuations. After exercising:
Take a shower.
Change your underwear.
Use a fresh pad or tampon.
Change into fresh clothing if your workout clothes are sweaty or stained.
Remember, even if you are close to the end of your period, the increased movement, different positions, or stretching during exercise may cause some spotting. This is normal and can usually be managed with panty liners or period products. However, if you experience spotting between periods for unexplained reasons, it is best to consult your health care provider.
Don't forget, every case is different. It will always come down to the individual. If you are feeling good, you can and should keep training during your cycle, however, if you are not feeling strong enough and don't have enough energy, you can rest for a couple of days until you don't feel ready to exercise.
Stay tuned for the next month where we will discuss all things menopause.
1. Börjesson, M., Onerup, A., Lundqvist, S., & Dahlöf, B. (2016). Physical activity and exercise lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension: narrative review of 27 RCTs. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(6), 356-361. doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095786
2. Campo, R. A., Light, K. C., O’Connor, K., Nakamura, Y., Lipschitz, D., LaStayo, P. C., ... & Martins, T. B. (2015). Blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and inflammatory cytokine outcomes in senior female cancer survivors enrolled in a tai chi chih randomized controlled trial. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 9(1), 115-125. doi.org/10.1007/s11764-014-0395-x
3. Clennell, B. (2016). The Woman's Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. Shambhala Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=CRrIDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT8&dq=yoga++poses+to+avoid+menstruation&ots=psp9mDdkYC&sig=3-snAD1TQBxLNXY1QMk5OZ5KctY#v=onepage&q=yoga%20%20poses%20to%20avoid%20menstruation&f=false