During periods, exercise is the last thing on women’s minds. Fatigue and irritability make it harder to get up and stay motivated to work out. In addition, the hormone fluctuations in a woman’s body during the whole menstrual cycle affect exercise performance.
As a result, most women skip their workouts during this time of the month. However, staying active during the period is perfectly fine. Exercise while on your period effectively relieves the symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle.
With a recent increase in the number of women being aware of fitness and exercise, there is a growing need to determine the effects of oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations across the periods on exercise performance. However, there is a lack of research regarding the impact of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance.
Effect of Periods on Exercise
The menstrual cycle is the biological pattern during which there are fluctuations in progesterone and oestrogen levels. The altered concentrations of these hormones influence the parameters of physiological systems.
It includes the cardiovascular system, kidney tubules, liver, skeletal tissue, hypothalamus, and adipose tissue. Also, these fluctuations in the physiological systems due to the menstrual cycle can affect exercise performance.
The menstrual cycle is a biological rhythm divided into three phases:
- Early follicular phase: low oestrogen and progesterone
- Ovulatory phase: high oestrogen and low progesterone
- Mid-luteal phase: high oestrogen and high progesterone
Oestrogen regulates substrate metabolism by enhancing glycogen uptake and sparing glycogen stores. It has antioxidant and membrane stabilising properties that provide protection against exercise-induced muscle damage and reduce inflammatory responses.
In addition, it has neuroexcitatory effects, reducing inhibition and increasing voluntary activation. Oestrogen has anabolic effects, whereas progesterone has anti-estrogenic effects.
The menstrual cycle’s two main stages are the follicular and luteal phases. Due to low hormone levels, the body has better access to stored carbohydrates in the follicular phase, making it ideal for high-intensity training.
This stage is perfect for working on muscle-building exercises. In the luteal phase, a high level of hormones can decrease anabolic effects and muscle-building capacity. Focusing on low-intensity workouts with more recovery time is better during this period.
Studies show that the increased basal body temperature in the luteal phase can enhance short-duration performance. However, in prolonged activities rise in basal body temperature may inflict thermoregulatory and cardiovascular strain and limit endurance performance.
Another study shows that the mid-luteal phase may negatively affect prolonged exercise performance through elevated body temperature and increased cardiovascular strain. No changes were there in stimulus for maximal oxygen consumption and muscle contractile characteristics. However, strength-specific and intense anaerobic/aerobic sports don’t need to adjust for maximum performance during the menstrual cycle.
It is important to note that exercising too much can cause an imbalance in hormones responsible for menstrual periods. Furthermore, It may result in irregular or missed periods. It is a widespread occurrence in women who train hard regularly.
It occurs when exercise expenditure uses the energy required for day-to-day processes. With insufficient energy, the hypothalamus prevents the release of hormones that regulate ovulation.
The HealthifyMe Note
There is no satisfactory evidence of a difference in women’s ability to exercise in menses. The only authentic evidence is related to endurance and long sports events. In these events, women in the mid-luteal phase have a more challenging time exercising in hot and humid weather. It is due to elevated body temperature and cardiovascular strain that lead to exhaustion.
Benefits of Exercise During Periods
It is no surprise that regular exercise can benefit us in several ways. However, exercising can lead to specific benefits during your periods. Here are some of the common benefits.
Relieve Menstrual Disorders
Studies report that the PMS symptoms are fewer in physically active women. It also shows that increased strength training and aerobic exercise interventions can reduce PMS symptoms.
Exercise is also associated with a reduced risk of chronic pelvic pain during painful periods (dysmenorrhoea). Regular exercise helps in reducing the severity of menstrual symptoms. It reduces muscle pain and water retention to prevent abdominal cramps and bloating during menstrual periods.
Triggers the Release of Endorphins
Exercise stimulates the secretion of endorphins that uplift the mood and reduce signs of anxiety, depression, and pain. Endorphins are feel-good hormones as well as natural painkillers.
In addition, exercise alleviates the physical and chemical changes that occur in the body during the menstrual cycle. These internal pain relievers help to heal menstrual cramps and pain.
Studies show that exercise influences the brain’s endorphins, thus improving psychological and physical PMS symptoms related to the menstrual cycle.
Exercise can increase brain efficiency, uplift mood, and physical and mental health during periods. It reduces the pressure and creates equilibrium in female brain chemical secretions. In addition, stronger core and pelvic muscles help the menstrual cycle function better.
Exercises During Periods
Performing specific exercises at the time of your period cycle can be helpful. For example, light walking during your period cycle can help your lungs work properly. Some other exercises that can help you during your periods are below.
A low-intensity aerobic exercise that doesn’t require special equipment. Walking includes light movements which trigger the secretion of endorphins. Endorphins uplift the mood and reduce the feeling of depression, anxiety, and nervousness.
A 30-minute light walk helps in increasing the spirit and improving PMS symptoms. In addition, this exercise helps the lungs work better later in the menstrual cycle.
Slow running helps ease PMS symptoms such as abdominal cramps, irritability, and pelvic pain. A study to assess the effect of an exercise intervention on reducing menstrual pain involved participants who underwent vigorous aerobic training on a treadmill three times a week for four weeks, along with aerobic workouts at home. It showed that exercise intervention is an applicable and feasible method to reduce pain associated with menstrual cramping.
Yoga helps relax the body and relieve the symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle, such as abdominal cramps and bloating. Also, stretching and breathing exercises increase blood circulation and prevent nausea.
In addition, yoga helps calm the nerves, reduces stress and tension, and makes the person feel better. It also increases the release of endorphins, uplifting the spirits and improving mood.
A study suggests that female employees in Taiwan who participated in short-term yoga exercise intervention reported fewer PMS symptoms.
In addition, they experienced fewer PMS symptoms associated with less menstrual pain. There was also a notable reduction in breast tenderness, abdominal swelling, and bloating in those females.
It stretches the neck, back, and abdominal muscles. It regulates the spine’s flexibility and is ideal for reducing back pain. In addition, it also improves posture and helps in opening shoulder joints.
Directions for the cat-cow pose:
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists under your shoulders and knees directly under your hips.
- Centre the head in a neutral position with a neutral spine.
- Inhale and move into cow pose: drop the belly towards the mat, push the chin and chest upwards with gaze up towards the ceiling.
- Relax the shoulder blades and draw the shoulder away from the ears.
- Exhale and move into cat pose: Draw the belly inside by rounding the spine outward and drawing the pubic bone forward, like a cat stretching its spine.
- Release the crown of your head toward the floor and relax. Don’t force the chin on your chest.
- Inhale, resume the cow pose, and exhale as you return to the cat pose.
- Repeat 10-20 times, then rest by sitting back on heels with an upright torso.
It stretches the lower back and hips. It relieves stress and reduces gas, bloating, fatigue, and back discomfort.
Directions of child pose:
- Kneel on the mat and rest your hips against your heels. Place your palms on the thighs and bring the feet closer together
- Inhale and exhale slowly, and relax your shoulders
- Exhale and lower the upper body onto your thighs. Extend the arms in front of you with your palms face down on the mat.
- Keep the big toes touching and spread the knees wide enough for the torso to lower between your thighs.
- Rest the forehead on the mat and relax your neck.
- Keep the eyes closed, and focus on physical sensations in the body.
- Continue this exercise for one-three minutes.
- Inhale and come back to resting position with relaxed shoulders and upright position.
Downward Dog Pose
This pose stretches the shoulders, chest, hamstrings, and calves. In addition, it strengthens the arms, shoulders, abdominal and quadriceps muscles, and ankles.
Directions of downward dog pose:
- From the table position, tuck the toes under and place the palms facing the ground.
- Spread the fingers wide apart and palms shoulder-width apart. Press on the fingers and lift the hips towards the ceilings
- Keep the spine straight and long. Keep the feet hip-width apart with toes facing upward. Press the heels into the floor and feel the stretch in the back of the legs.
- Let the head and neck hang freely from the shoulders.
- Breathe through your nose and hold for 5-10 breaths.
- Bend the knees, lower the hips back into a table position, and return to the child’s pose.
This pose stretches the chest and abdominal muscles and maintains the spine’s flexibility. It improves poor posture, relieves back pain, fights against depression, and improves energy levels. It increases the mobility of the spine and opens up the chest. In addition, it strengthens the spinal support muscles.
Directions for cobra pose:
- Lie on the stomach, face down with your feet and legs together
- Place the hands on the ground directly under the shoulders
- Inhale as you elevate your chest off the floor without moving your legs
- Try to recline backwards with the navel in contact with the floor
- Hold the pose for 15-30 seconds
- Take deep breaths while holding the pose
- Exhale slowly and descend and resume the neutral position
- Repeat the pose several times as long
It strengthens the arms, wrists, and spine. In this yoga pose, all the muscles are engaged, which helps strengthen the upper body, core, and lower body.
Directions for plank pose:
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrist directly under the shoulders.
- Place your forearms on the floor with elbows below the shoulders and arms parallel with the body about shoulder-width apart. Don’t let your chest collapse.
- Tuck your toes and step back with your feet. Bring your body and head in one straight line.
- Clench your abdominal muscles and draw the pelvic muscles inside and hold this position for 15-30 seconds
- Take deep breaths while holding this position.
- Slowly lower your knees, press back into a child’s pose and rest.
Swimming is a gentle and relaxing exercise to relieve the physical and psychological symptoms of PMS. Females will also bleed less in cold water because of the hard clamping of blood vessels.
A study assesses the effectiveness of swimming on the severity of symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. It concluded that swimming has a beneficial effect on most physical and psychological symptoms of PMS.
Light Lifting and Pilates
Pilates and low-intensity power-based moves relax the body and reduce the severity of PMS symptoms such as abdominal cramps. Also, pilates targets specific muscle groups and builds core strength. Low-intensity strength training increases muscle flexibility and strength.
The HealthifyMe Note
Exercise during periods has proven to relieve the symptoms associated with periods. It relieves abdominal cramps, upset stomach, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, headache, bloating, mood swings, irritability, and fatigue. In addition, exercise balances physical and hormonal changes and enhances the production of endorphins (feel-good hormones) to reduce pain and improve mood.
Safety and Tips to Recover During Periods
- Eat frequently, but with small portions of food. For example, try to eat six small meals a day rather than three. Do not skip meals. It can aggravate PMS symptoms.
- Women have a higher risk of iron deficiency during the menstrual cycle, leading to anaemia. Therefore, eat iron-rich foods to prevent the risk of iron deficiency.
- Make sure to drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated is essential during periods to prevent lethargy.
- Avoid eating refined sugars such as candy, carbonated beverages, soft drinks, baked goods, artificial sweeteners, etc. It can cause a sudden spike in the energy with a crash landing. In addition, artificial sweeteners interfere with the absorption of tryptophan.
- Avoid eating processed food products such as meat, canned soup, pickle, and other foods preserved in salt. Regulate the salt intake to prevent the aggravation of menstrual cycle symptoms. A high sodium diet causes water retention and causes abdominal cramps and bloating during periods. Try to eat a low sodium diet to relieve the menstrual symptoms.
- Eat complex and unrefined foods such as fruits, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to trigger the release of tryptophan. Studies suggest that high levels of tryptophan release serotonin during the menstrual cycle to help relieve PMS symptoms. Conversely, low tryptophan levels significantly increase PMS symptoms, especially irritability.
- Supplementing vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 and E, raises serotonin levels. Eat magnesium-rich foods during periods. Magnesium supports the nervous system and reduces the signs of nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability.
- Limit dairy products to two servings daily to get enough calcium to prevent bone loss. In addition, dairy products inhibit magnesium absorption, essential for hormone synthesis.
- Restrict the intake of saturated fats and red meats. Instead, eat poultry and fish for protein and omega-3 fatty acids intake.
- Get enough sleep during periods to prevent energy slumps and tiredness throughout the day. Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and certain medications that interfere with the normal sleep cycle.
- Melatonin hormone regulates the circadian rhythm. It also helps treat chronic pelvic pain in the menstrual cycle, generally in endometriosis.
- Avoid strenuous exercises and exercises for a prolonged time. Overexercising can cause low energy levels resulting in thermoregulatory and cardiovascular strain. Low energy levels may interfere with normal body processes. Furthermore, a fatigued state leads to poor posture and may result in injury. Overexertion or overexercising can also cause irregular periods or stop periods.
There are no exercises that are off-limits during periods. Still, it is better to stay focused on low-intensity to moderate-intensity workouts. It is better to check on energy levels to prevent the feeling of lethargy, which can cause injury due to poor form.
Women have more cravings and feel more hungry during the menstrual cycle. The changes in metabolic rate differ in every individual. Therefore, it is essential to eat a healthy diet with regular exercise to prevent the severity of premenstrual symptoms.
There are currently no evidence-based studies or guidelines for managing exercise performance across the menstrual cycle. Therefore, it is necessary to know the changes in exercise performance across the menstrual cycle in women.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is it OK to do exercise during periods?
A. Yes, low-intensity exercise during the menstrual cycle alleviates the symptoms such as abdominal cramps, period pains, bloating, and anxious and depressed feelings. It relaxes the pelvic muscles and uplifts the mood during periods. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins to elevate the mood and reduce period pain. In addition, it helps to regulate irregular menstrual cycles.
Q. Can exercise make your period heavier?
A. Not all exercises make the periods heavier. Intense exercise can interfere with the hormones responsible for the menstrual cycle. It triggers the release of stress hormones which constrain the release of hormones essential for the menstrual cycle. Excessive exercise can cause spotting without a period cycle. High-intensity weight training with intense cardio during periods may generate heavy menstrual flow.
Q. Which exercise to avoid during periods?
A. Avoid strenuous and intense cardiovascular exercises as they cause heavy menstrual flow. Avoid high-intensity weight training to prevent heavy menstrual flow, severe abdominal cramps, and menstrual pain. Avoiding unnecessary exertion during periods helps in keeping your strength.
Q. Can I do squats during periods?
A. Yes, you can do squats during periods. Low-intensity strength training such as squats, lunges, and press-ups strengthens core muscles, easing menstrual symptoms. However, do squats only if the period cramps are bearable. If you experience higher pelvic pain, it is better to avoid it entirely. In addition, some people experience discomfort while exercising, and to prevent that, modify the exercise.
Q. Can I plank during periods?
A. Yes, you can plank during periods. Planks strengthen the back muscles and help ease the tension in the back during the periods. It alleviates the symptoms occurring during the menstrual cycle. Along with easing period symptoms, it helps strengthen hips, chest, butt, abs, and arm muscles. Plank gives a better balance to the front, back, and side muscles of the body hence improving the posture.
Q. Can I do jumping jacks during periods?
A. Yes, you can do jumping jacks during periods. Moderate exercise during periods is beneficial for decreasing the severity of period cramps. However, it is essential to take a more gradual and non-strenuous approach during periods to prevent the extreme fatigue state.
Q. What should we not do in periods?
A. Avoid drinking coffee or eating salty, spicy, and sugary foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and red meat. Sodium causes water retention resulting in bloating and abdominal cramps. Also, excess sugar intake can cause sudden energy spikes and crashes. In addition, avoid strenuous exercise during your periods to avoid the hormone imbalance that drives the menstrual cycle.
Q. Does exercise end your period faster?
A. Exercise can have a significant impact on the menstrual cycle. Regular cardiovascular exercise and workout routines can lighten the menstrual flow. Exercising helps to ease bloating and reduce abdominal cramps by reducing water retention. In addition, exercise may reduce the menstrual cycle length because stronger muscles help the cycle function faster.
Q. Can I do HIIT during periods?
A. High-intensity interval training during the periods can cause an imbalance in hormones responsible for menstrual periods. As a result, it can cause bleeding without even periods or stop the flow completely. In addition, it makes one feel more tired than usual, which can cause irritability and bad mood swings.
Q. Which exercise is best for weight loss during periods?
A. Low-intensity cardio, yoga, slow running, swimming, dancing, low volume strength training, and pilates are some recommended exercises for weight loss during periods. The low progesterone and estrogen level during the menstrual phase enhance fat burning. Also, yoga relaxes the body and increases the basal metabolic rate to burn extra calories. Pilates targets specific muscle groups and builds core strength. Low volume strength training builds endurance. These exercises might burn more calories during periods, resulting in weight loss.