Fitness enthusiast or not, dragging yourself to the gym or maintaining your regular workout routine can seem like a colossal task when on your period. The interplay of mood-ruining hormones and the overall feeling of wanting to lie stark still till the 5 days are over does not make the thought of physical activity appealing from any angle. We tell you – it does not have to be this way.
There’s a reason why exercise has gained its undefeatable popularity when it comes to health. Even on your period, it can actually do you good, despite what you believe or would like to believe.
Cutting a long story short – yes, you can exercise while on your period. Now, let’s address the concerns you may have.
1. Your menstrual cramps will worsen.
Myth or Truth: Myth
Not so surprisingly, 1 in 2 women suffer from menstrual cramps, also called dysmenorrhea, and 1 in 10 are incapacitated for 1 to 3 days every month. During menstruation, the lining of the uterus synthesizes and releases hormone-like substances called prostaglandins into the menstrual fluid.1 2 These prostaglandins cause uterine muscles to contract, restricting blood flow to the uterus and causing tissue death in the uterine lining. Muscular contractions result in pain, unbearable and severe in some individuals.
Though concrete evidence is lacking and further research is required, exercise shows promise in helping relieve menstrual cramps. So far, the best explanation is that exercise induces production of endorphins in the brain. A high level of endorphins:
- Relieves stress:3 Stress tends to increase our involuntary nerve responses, including those involved in uterine muscle contractions. Feel-good endorphins reduce stress, thereby reducing involuntary nerve activity and decreasing pain-causing muscle contractions.
- Counteracts prostaglandins: Endorphins are suspected to counteract the effect of prostaglandins, increasing blood flow to the uterus and reducing uterine contractions, cramping, and pain.4
- Raises your pain threshold:5 While your muscle contractions may remain unaffected by exercise, your responsiveness to them may change. You may be able to tolerate more pain because of endorphins released in the brain.
Verdict: While you may wrongly associate period cramps with regular exercise-induced cramps, exercise may actually help ease some of your period pain.
2. You will bleed more than usual.
Myth or Truth: Myth
A survey involving 249 high school athletes reported that 50% of the athletes experienced shorter, lighter, or more spaced apart periods.6 This is likely a consequence of the energy drain that exercising causes. Less energy available for your reproductive system to use results in such menstrual alterations.
Squatting or strenuous exercise may make you feel like you birthed a blood clot, but rest assured, your overall blood flow will most likely be reduced.
Keep in mind that your period flow is affected by a host of factors – like your stress levels, your hormonal balance, and previous pregnancies – and not just your level of physical activity.
Verdict: Exercise may help reduce the duration of your period and may even result in a lighter flow.
3. Your performance will get hampered.
Myth or Truth: Myth
A study involving 241 athletes across different sports showed that physical performance remains unaffected by menstruation.7 In other words, how well they performed at their sport when on their period was the same as when they were not.
Verdict: You don’t have to worry about not being able to exercise during your period. Your body is well equipped for this natural process and will not interfere with you running, lifting weights, swimming, or doing anything in moderation.
Benefits Of Exercising While On Your Period
1. Relieves Bloating
Exercise decreases fluid retention and bloating during your period.8 The discomfort around your belly as you do jumping jacks, run, or do crunches will be significantly reduced.
2. Keeps You Cool
Estrogen and progesterone levels are low during your period. This low-hormone phase is associated with a lower body temperature.9 Simply put, you will take a lot longer to uncomfortably heat up and fatigue while you exercise, making your workout more productive and maybe even longer.
3. Makes You Feel Good
This goes without saying. The pump you feel in your chest, the warm blush in your cheeks and the inevitable runner’s high after a good workout is bound to make you feel confident, sensual, and positive.10 The beta-endorphins produced as a result of exercise will get rid of some of the crumminess that your period drags along with it.
What Can Actually Go Wrong
1. Your chances of injury increase during your period.
When our muscles are stretched, say during exercise, an inbuilt automatic program causes them to respond by contracting. This muscle stretch reflex prevents us from sustaining an injury due to an overstretched muscle. During menstruation, particularly the first 2 days, this reflex is compromised making women more prone to injury during their period.11
Poor motor control can occur as you do jumping squats and land with your knees turned inward or when you overwork your quads instead of evening out the pressure with your hams and glutes.
By exerting a little caution and maintaining proper form while exercising, we can put this worry to rest.
2. You may develop exercise-related amenorrhea.
This is not related to exercise during your periods only. We are talking about strenuous exercise in general.
If your energy expenditure exceeds your energy intake and you don’t compensate by eating nutritious meals, you may achieve your weight loss goals but you may suffer complications like amenorrhea, the abnormal stopping of periods.12
Women who indulge in sports that emphasize a slender figure and warrant regular strenuous practices like figure skating, ballet, and gymnastics are more susceptible to amenorrhea.
An ongoing energy deficit with regular strenuous exercise causes the hypothalamus to suppress hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, including estrogen.13 As estrogen help in absorption of calcium by the bones, its inadequacy implicates weaker fragile bones – bones more prone to fracture and diseases like osteoporosis.14
Workout Tips For Period Week
As you decide to overpower the temptation to stay put and not exercise, the following tips will help you with your endeavor.
1. Stretch to warm up and cool down: Remember to gently stretch your lower back and abdomen before and after you start your workout. It will predictably loosen your muscles and may even prevent cramping well into your workout.
- Pull your knee to your chest and hold. You may do this while standing or while lying on your back.
- Rotate your hips, first clockwise and then anti-clockwise.
- Perform progressive muscle relaxation alternately tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups. Start at your head and work your way down to your feet.
2. Do some yoga: Yoga reduces the severity and duration of menstrual cramps.15 The cat, cobra, and fish poses are particularly helpful.
Also, with meditation and focused breathing, your stress levels have no choice but to plummet. As stress worsens menstrual cramps, this much-needed relaxation may help ease some of your pain. Yoga instructors generally advise against inversions during periods as they may worsen cramps.
3. Go all out with HIIT: Not only is it safe to exercise during periods, it is safe to push your performance limits. Do not hold yourself back. Your period week might be a good time to try HIIT (high-intensity interval training). While this may seem a little too much to take in, here’s why.
Progesterone and estrogen promote fat as fuel during exercise.16 Their levels plummet during periods, allowing you to use stored carbohydrate as fuel instead of the usual fat reserves. You gain more energy from burning carbs than fat, which will allow you to push yourself a lot harder than other times of the month.
4. Stay hydrated: Remember to drink lots and lots of water after your workout. Take big sips in between as well.
All said and done, the best advice we can give you is to listen to your body. Don’t push yourself to exercise hard or to even exercise at all if your body is screaming SOS against it. It is okay to give yourself a break or just go for a brisk walk or a swim during shark week.
|↑1||Dawood, M. Y. “Dysmenorrhoea and prostaglandins: pharmacological and therapeutic considerations.” Drugs 22, no. 1 (1981): 42-56.|
|↑2||Rosenwaks, Z., and G. Seegar-Jones. “Menstrual pain: its origin and pathogenesis.” The Journal of reproductive medicine 25, no. 4 Suppl (1980): 207-212.|
|↑3, ↑5||Abbaspour, Z., M. Rostami, and S. H. Najjar. “The effect of exercise on primary dysmenorrhea.” Journal of Research in Health sciences 6, no. 1 (2006): 26-31.|
|↑4||Faletti, A., D. Bassi, A. L. Gimeno, and M. A. F. Gimeno. “Effects of β-endorphin on spontaneous uterine contractions. Prostaglandins production and 45Ca2+ uptake in uterine strips from ovariectomized rats.” Prostaglandins, leukotrienes and essential fatty acids 47, no. 1 (1992): 29-33.|
|↑6||Thein-Nissenbaum, Jill M., Mitchell J. Rauh, Kathleen E. Carr, Keith J. Loud, and Timothy A. McGuine. “Menstrual irregularity and musculoskeletal injury in female high school athletes.” Journal of athletic training 47, no. 1 (2012): 74-82.|
|↑7||Kishali, Necip Fazil, Osman Imamoglu, Dursun Katkat, Tulin Atan, and Pelin Akyol. “Effects of menstrual cycle on sports performance.” International Journal of Neuroscience 116, no. 12 (2006): 1549-1563.|
|↑8||White, Colin P., Christine L. Hitchcock, Yvette M. Vigna, and Jerilynn C. Prior. “Fluid retention over the menstrual cycle: 1-year data from the prospective ovulation cohort.” Obstetrics and gynecology international 2011 (2011).|
|↑9||Šimić, Nataša, and Arijana Ravlić. “Changes in basal body temperature and simple reaction times during the menstrual cycle.” Archives of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology 64, no. 1 (2013): 99-106.|
|↑10||Craft, Lynette L., and Frank M. Perna. “The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry 6, no. 3 (2004): 104.|
|↑11||Casey, Ellen, Farah Hameed, and Yasin Y. Dhaher. “The muscle stretch reflex throughout the menstrual cycle.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 46, no. 3 (2014): 600.|
|↑12, ↑14||Meczekalski, B., K. Katulski, A. Czyzyk, A. Podfigurna-Stopa, and M. Maciejewska-Jeske. “Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea and its influence on women’s health.” Journal of endocrinological investigation 37, no. 11 (2014): 1049-1056.|
|↑13||Cano Sokoloff, N., M. Misra, and K. E. Ackerman. “Exercise, Training, and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonadal Axis in Men and Women.” In Sports Endocrinology, vol. 47, pp. 27-43. Karger Publishers, 2016.|
|↑15||Rakhshaee, Zahra. “Effect of three yoga poses (cobra, cat and fish poses) in women with primary dysmenorrhea: a randomized clinical trial.” Journal of pediatric and adolescent gynecology 24, no. 4 (2011): 192-196.|
|↑16||Tara, M. D., Carrie Sharoff, Stuart R. Chipkin, Dan Grow, Brent C. Ruby, and Barry Braun. “Regulation of exercise carbohydrate metabolism by estrogen and progesterone in women.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 283, no. 5 (2002): E1046-E1055.Tara, M. D., Carrie Sharoff, Stuart R. Chipkin, Dan Grow, Brent C. Ruby, and Barry Braun. “Regulation of exercise carbohydrate metabolism by estrogen and progesterone in women.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 283, no. 5 (2002): E1046-E1055.|