Exercising regularly brings a host of benefits to your body, such as improving your mood, sharpening your focus, and building endurance. But did you know that exercising regularly can also change the way you menstruate?
If you’re an active woman and have been noticing some unexpected changes in your menstruation cycle lately, we’ll tell you why. Read on to learn about the ways that exercise can change the way your body regulates hormones, which can affect the way your period comes and goes.
Exercise and the Menstrual Cycle
Working out while on your period is a divisive topic among women: a recent survey conducted by Populus found that, among UK women, more than 50% stopped going to the gym while they were menstruating.
The reason? Many women are worried that the strenuous exercise will make their periods heavier, longer, or more difficult to deal with: in other words, some people think exercising during their period is a one-way ticket to PMS Hell. Some even shy away from relatively easier activities, such as swimming, while on period.
Of course, your threshold for pain and discomfort may vary, but the good news is that for most women, exercise during menstruation is perfectly safe. In fact, there are a few compelling reasons why you might want to keep up your usual routine—or even ramp it up a notch—while Aunt Flo is in town.
First of all, working out releases endorphins which can improve your mood, helping you feel less stressed out and anxious. Exercise also has several other benefits for women’s mental health, such as improving self-esteem and body image.
Secondly, exercise can help lighten your flow and lessen the pain from cramps.
And finally, regular exercise can help regulate your hormones and keep your period on track. Exercise helps to reduce stress levels, which in turn helps to keep cortisol—one of the main culprits behind irregular periods—under control. So if you’re looking to keep your period on a regular schedule, hitting the gym (or going for a run) may be just what you need.
How Exercising Can Lead to Irregular Periods
At the same time, however, regular exercise can lead to irregular periods if you expend too much energy.
It seems paradoxical, especially since we just mentioned that exercise can help keep your periods regular, but it’s true. This is because intense, strenuous exercise and a low-calorie diet can cause the hypothalamus to slow down the release of hormones responsible for ovulation.
When you’re expending too much energy while exercising without replacing it with enough food, your body will naturally slow down the processes that aren’t essential to survival. Your reproductive system will be one of the first things to go, which is why you may experience irregular periods when you’re too active.
So if you’re an avid exerciser and are worried about your menstrual cycle, don’t be. Just make sure that you’re eating enough food to fuel your workouts, and that your exercise routine isn’t too strenuous for your body.
Amenorrhea and Exercise
The phenomenon of losing your period is called amenorrhea.
To be clear: this isn’t a common phenomenon. It rears its head most often among women who are focused on weight loss and who exercise intensely while restricting their calorie intake. Athletes and anyone else who’s really into fitness are more likely to experience it.
Simply put, you’re expending too much energy in your workouts that your body decides that your periods aren’t a necessity.
But as long as you’re eating plenty of nutritious, calorie-dense foods and taking in adequate calories to fuel your workouts (your activity level will help determine how many calories you need), exercise won’t have a serious effect on the regularity or heaviness of your menstrual cycle.
You can still be active but moderate intensity is key here: go for a light jog instead of an intense run, keep up your yoga practice but avoid any strenuous poses. If you’re not feeling up to it, consider breathing exercises. Not only are they easy to do, but breathing exercises also relieve stress, helping you get back to your routine sooner.
Alternatively, you could keep your regular workouts, but make sure that you increase your caloric intake during that period. This way, your body will have enough energy to keep your reproductive system working as usual. You can then taper off this extra caloric intake when your period is over.
Irregular periods can be frustrating, but the good news is that for most women, exercise during menstruation is perfectly safe.
Although the prospect of losing your period might seem like a net positive for some women, it’s important to remember that amenorrhea can be a sign of more serious health problems. This condition is linked to estrogen deficiency, cardiovascular issues, and weaker bone tissue. So if you experience frequent or prolonged episodes of amenorrhea, you might want to talk with your Naturopath about it.
Women who are serious about their fitness goals need to be mindful of how intense exercise can affect their periods. If you want to keep your period regular, you need to ensure that you’re getting enough food to fuel your workouts. It is also important to talk with your Naturopath if amenorrhea occurs more than once or lasts for an extended duration.
Regi Publico is a full-time writer based in Manila who is also an artist for fun. She takes pride in her towering collection of books and loves reading about anything under the sun. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge through every article that she writes.