Exercise and your period: 5 reasons to ‘go with the flow’

Raise your hand if you’ve ever taken a few days away from exercise because it was ‘that time of the month’?

exercise and your period

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”

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?






  1. I definitely find it tempting to skip a workout or two during my period, especially because I have terrible cramps. However, I have worked out with my period before so I remind myself that it IS possible and all the other excuses running through my mind not to exercise are just that — excuses. Thanks for the informative post 🙂
    PlumPetals recently posted…Catching Up and ComplainingMy Profile

  2. I think all those years of competitive track (high school & college) convinced me that you could push through even the worst cramps. As an adult I continued to work out no matter what. And now, thankfully, I don’t have to deal with all of that anymore (the last 5 years or so have been awesome!!).
    Kim recently posted…WordsMy Profile

  3. Love this list! We can work with our bodies and not against them. There are times, based on our cycle, when we are more powerful. There are times when we need to eat differently or be even more conscious how fuel our bodies.
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted…The MedGem Test and Your Daily Calorie NeedsMy Profile

  4. Great post! I never took off no matter how bad the cramps were.. I sometimes had to tone down my crazy workouts but my thought process was if I took off every time this happened, I would never work out. I was one that had long periods (7 days) & a week of crap before they ever hit so I was feeling like crap 2 weeks a month for a lot of years. I just took my Advil & worked out.

    Again, I am one that never fits into the studies. The working out never really helped me in terms of reducing the effect or pain or anything else.. that all stayed the same but for me, working out is the better alternative.. and it was uncomfortable at times. 😉
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…Time is “Running” Out!My Profile

  5. I have definitely done that before (yesterday for example) even though I know I will feel better if I work out. I get so tired during my period, it’s hard to motivate myself:/ Thanks for the reminder;)
    Rachelle Q recently posted…Sunshine AwardMy Profile

  6. Perfect timing! One of my girls at our cross country meet complained of crams yesterday before her race. I told her that generally speaking, running would make her feel better (of course I didn’t have all this great back up to pass on!). She did run, and did very well.
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted…IDEA is Looking for Inspired BloggersMy Profile

  7. I’ve learned that live (exercise as well) can’t stop just because I have my period. So why stop when I have it. Same with exercise.
    blackhuff recently posted…Today’s findingsMy Profile

    • Here, here. (And for those of us in peri-menopause, where we might get our period every 2nd week, that behaviour would result in a lot of missed workouts!)

  8. Would it help if during period days, I use cloth pads while doing a workout? I have read an article about how cloth pads help in preventing cramps. She realized that when she uses sanitary pads, she gets cramps, which not happens when she is using cloth pads. Have you tried this?
    Thelma Scott recently posted…Stabbed Dodgers Fan’s Father Calls For WitnessesMy Profile


  1. […] Exercise and your period: 5 reasons to ‘go with the flow’ by Tamara – All women live with their periods for decades. Tamara points out why we should continue exercising during “that time of the month.” […]