Exercising while having your period might seem counterintuitive but there are some benefits, say the experts. If you are concerned about how your period will affect your fitness routine, you are not alone.
Gone are the days where women and young girls wouldn’t dare speak about their periods and the discomfort they experience during this time of the month.
Mood swings, food cravings, heavy flow, cramps and spotting – women are speaking up about it all and taking ownership of their anatomy. Aside from the usual PMS and the debate about menstrual cups, tamps or pads, there is something that women cannot seem to agree on: exercising in your period.
Well, it is your choice, says Kimberley-based occupational medical practitioner Dr Vusi Ndlovu.
Ndlovu says women’s experiences of the menses differ and advice about exercise and training should be individualised instead of taking a general approach.
Don’t hang up your running shoes yet
“We all have different bodies and different pain thresholds and what works for you might not necessarily work for another woman,” he says.
“Exercise is a stress reliever and leads to the release of ‘feel-good’ hormones known as endorphins which may help relieve PMS symptoms and elevate mood.
“Exercise should be avoided if severe pain and heavy bleeding occurs as the anaemic state that results from blood loss may cause syncope and collapse.”
“Women with very heavy flows must seek a medical opinion before embarking of strenuous exercise.”
Several studies have looked at different responses to strength training in the follicular phase (the time from your period until ovulation), versus training in the luteal phase (from ovulation until your period).
Some research has found that strength training during the follicular phase (day one of your period) resulted in higher increases in muscle strength compared to training in the luteal phase (when the egg is released.)
What to avoid and what can you do?
Less strenuous forms of activity such as yoga are beneficial for relaxation and muscle stretching and can be done safely during menses. Care must be taken to consume healthy meals low in sugar and fats to avoid weight gain during periods of non-exercise.
Hlubikazi Ntshobane, an exercise science specialist based in Pretoria, says, “It is actually safe to perform strength training during your menstrual cycle. For some women this is when they feel really strong and can push a little harder in their training phases.
“However, if your cycle causes a lot of nausea and discomfort, any strenuous exercise should be avoided.”
Pain threshold and how you feel during your cycle needs to be strongly considered. Even though it’s an unpopular opinion, you should be taking it easy and upping the self-care and relaxing during this phase.
Another factor to consider is the level of fitness of the woman. Pro athletes and very active women are likely to continue to exercise normally with no risk to safety. Apart from the group of women who experience disabling pain, exercise is safe even during menses.
Unless you are an athlete with a deadline, a few days of walking, stretching and taking it easy have been proven to be most beneficial.
Normally we avoid abdominal exercises as they might make cramps feel worse, Ntshobane adds.
“Stretching is a very good alternative to exercise. It’s very relaxing and can help release those feel-good hormones. It’s also a nice way to have a few minutes to yourself over those couple of days.”
Like everything health-related, it is advised that you seek a medical opinion. While exercise can be beneficial during your menses, rest can be equally important.