Raise your hand if you’ve ever taken a few days away from exercise because it was ‘that time of the month’?
Heavy flow, muscle cramps, headaches, bloating, food cravings and a ‘less than happy’ demeanour are common reasons women cite for skipping their workouts when they have their period.
What many women don’t realize is that exercise can actually help reduce the intensity of their menstrual difficulties by (a) elevating their hormone levels, (b) stimulating muscular relaxation and when performed regularly and consistently, (c) stabilizing blood sugar levels.
Exercise and your period: 5 reasons to “go with the flow”
- Beginning the week before your period arrives and continuing through the first few days of your cycle, the hormones serotonin and progesterone reach their lowest levels of the month. As a consequence, you may be tired, more easily irritated and find that your workouts seem more difficult than usual. Take advantage of exercise’s natural serotonin-boosting benefits to improve your mood. (And remind yourself that your hormone levels will return to normal in a few days, along with your usual sunny disposition)
- Menstrual cramps occur because the uterine wall contracts and spasms as the endometrial lining is shed. If you’ve ever had a cramp or muscular spasm in your leg or arm, you’ll know that movement is often what’s required to return the muscle to it’s normal, resting state. Uterine cramps are no different. Many women report a reduction in the intensity of menstrual cramps after a good workout.
- In addition to affecting your reproductive cycle, the hormones estrogen and progesterone also help to regulate carbohydrate metabolism. Interestingly, during the week of your period and the week immediately preceding it, low estrogen and progesterone levels lead to enhanced fat burning efficiency. Take advantage of this natural ‘physique-building’ period by increasing your efforts at the gym and paying particular attention to any carbohydrate cravings low serotonin levels might trigger.
- Long term studies show that over time, regular exercise can decrease menstrual symptoms via it’s stabilizing effects on blood sugars. Recall that sugar is the body’s preferred source of fuel. Exercise reduces circulating blood sugar levels, and over time, decreases the body’s tendency to over-produce insulin in response to carbohydrate consumption. The more stable your blood sugars, the less likely you are to feel cravings for sweet and starchy foods.
- Repeatedly taking one week off out of four will undermine your exercise habit and stall your progress in the gym. Remember how hard it is to get back to the gym after a holiday? How quickly you lost cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength? Continuing to exercise throughout your entire menstrual cycle will prevent the ‘fits and starts’ that so often lead to long periods of physical inactivity (and sometimes the complete cessation of exercise altogether!). (Other reasons you might not be seeing results in the gym)
Periods no longer an issue for you? Just because you’re no longer ‘cycling’ doesn’t mean that your hormones have stabilized and menstrual-like symptoms will vanish. Exercise and proper nutrition will continue to be your best strategies for dealing with the hormonal challenges of menopause and beyond.
Have you ever used your period as an excuse for not exercising?