Do you remember a time when playing outside, going to the pool, and hanging upside down was pure joy, no matter the time of the month?
As women, why do we stop being so carefree in terms of movement and worrying so much about what we should and should not do once we start getting our periods?
There are several misconceptions, rooted in old wives’ tales that most of us have probably heard or been told. These lead us mainly to stop exercising altogether during our time of the month, beyond what symptoms we are truly experiencing.
Truth be told, you can, and most likely, should exercise while on your period. There are exceptions, of course. Some of us get menstrual pains so rough that all we can do is stay in bed on or the couch all day. Some of us will experience things like endometriosis, so, understandably, we would not be able to move much.
But other than that, exercise during our period can be beneficial for us.
Research, mainly done on athletes so far, has found that period pain and Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) can be reduced by exercising. Even something like light walking can help ease the pain.
Exercise will also tap into your endorphins (hormones that act as natural analgesics or “pain killers”), which means it will help you get in a better mood in general and make you feel better overall.
On the other hand, exercise, especially in women who train professionally or at a high frequency or intensity, can bring about missed periods, some spotting, or bleeding during the month, but not in your actual period phase. This is because exercise produces subtle changes in hormone levels. They are not necessarily a bad thing, but it is one of those "good to know" things.
“Irregular or missed periods are more common in athletes and other women who train hard regularly. But if you haven’t worked out in a long time and suddenly start a vigorous fitness routine, your period could stop or become irregular”
Now, why do we some days feel super energetic and ready to exercise all day, and others we just want to lay in bed and do nothing at all?
Our menstrual cycle is more than the days of bleeding or what we normally call our period.
The cycle is about 28 days long, but this can vary from woman to woman, from 21 to 35 days.
And it has different phases during the different weeks of the month. Each phase will affect our bodies in their own way and make us feel differently.
I feel this picture explaining the phases can help understand them better:
The Follicular phase:
During this phase, we go through menstruation itself and ovulation again. Day one of the cycle is the first day of your period and this phase goes on for about 14 days.
With estrogen levels on the rise, we tend to have more energy and get a nice mood boost. In general, during this phase, we can move more, do heavier lifting, and vigorous aerobic exercise. The estrogen increase will help us reduce the symptoms of Delay Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) and improve recovery.
The Luteal phase:
This phase starts at ovulation and ends when our period starts again (typically from day 14 to 28)
Estrogen starts going down and progesterone increases. We tend to feel more tired and sluggish during this time, and recovery from exercise can take longer.
During this stage, we can still exercise but we might need to opt for activities that are lighter in intensity or shorter in duration. Exercising in the morning can be a great option at this stage to avoid it when you are already more tired.
When we get closer to menstruation, both estrogen and progesterone levels lower. So our energy levels can take a big dip. Here is when we usually get PMS symptoms and exercise can help reduce them, as we discussed above.
Of course, these are all points based on the current research and what most women experience in each phase. There might be exceptions and you could be one of them
So, circling back to the beginning of this article, in general, you can continue exercising during your period, though you may want to listen to your body and choose your workouts based of how you are feeling.
Weather you just go for a walk or do a full strength routing at the gym will depend on your body's response to your period itself, as well as the other stages of your cycle.
And even on those days when you are feeling under the weather and like doing nothing at all, just some gentle movement, like light yoga or stretches can truly help boost your mood and reduce some of your PMS symptoms 😊