The Benefits of Exercising During Your Period
3rd November 2020
On a list of activities that most people would avoid at all costs during menstruation, exercise (or even, any kind of movement) is likely to sit at number one. Hot water bottles, chocolate and movie nights are a much more attractive alternative than sweating away at the gym when your body is running you ragged.
But as much as it may pain us to admit it, exercise can be the ultimate trump card for countless health-related problems or moments when we don’t feel our best and our periods are just one example of this. With the number of different styles of exercise to choose from, from gentle yoga to a full-on HIIT routine, there is nothing to fear from exercising on your period. In fact, it may surprise you how much it can benefit you and ease your symptoms.
Natural Pain Relief
One of the most frustrating and inconvenient aspects of menstruation is the pain and discomfort that it can bring. Reaching for paracetamol or the hot water bottle are obviously popular pain relief methods, but exercise is another free alternative that also improves your overall health. Maintaining regular healthy exercise habits can help to make your periods more manageable in the long run, but it can also help combat pain even if you’re not a regular gym-goer.
Firstly, even if you’re not experiencing a huge amount of pain during your period, it’s likely that you will experience some swelling or discomfort, at least for the first couple of days. Because we lose so much water when we exercise, this acts as the perfect natural remedy for that uncomfortable period bloat.
Even if you don’t feel immediate pain relief through exercise, certain types of exercise such as yoga or swimming can aid in relaxation. Sometimes just the thought of having a period can cause you to become tense, especially while we are feeling hormonal in the beginning stages of a period. Doing something to help actively relax your body and get rid of unnecessary tension will already do a world of good even if it does not completely eradicate your symptoms.
Menstrual hormones are not just a convenient punchline to describe a woman who is upset. They are a very real experience that affects many women on a regular basis and can severely impact their mental health. Exercise naturally lifts our endorphin and dopamine levels which behave as our own personal mood-lifting tool.
Not only does exercise affect us on a chemical level to help improve our moods and curb symptoms of PMS, but if you already exercise regularly, keeping up your regular routine, even if it is altered to your current capabilities can help maintain high morale in the knowledge that your fitness is not constantly being sidetracked by your period. There is nothing more frustrating than achieving a fitness goal, only to constantly be taking two steps back because of time taken off during a period.
Of course, you should never guilt yourself into exercise if you truly do not feel up for it as it will have the opposite of the desired effect. But even giving some light exercise a go – i.e going for a walk instead of a run, using lighter weights for a few days or using your period as an opportunity to try out slower and calmer forms of movement – will keep you in that positive headspace and remind you that your life and routine does not have to revolve around your menstrual cycle if you don’t want it to.
Curb Your Cravings
Cravings during a period behave like a vicious cycle of sorts. You feel low on energy, fatigued and bloated due to your hormones and your hormones, in turn, make you crave the kinds of foods that will cause you even further discomfort and fatigue. Even the strongest health enthusiasts amongst us would find it difficult to refuse chocolate during that time of the month even when we know that fruit and vegetables will help ease those symptoms better.
Luckily, it has been proven that continuous aerobic exercise does, in fact, reduce our ghrelin levels, one of the two hormones responsible for controlling our hunger and appetite. Of course, these effects are always temporary and do not last for more than a few hours, but rather than reaching for the snacks that will spike your sugar levels and leave you feeling miserable, it may be a good idea to make a habit of grabbing your trainers when you feel that telltale sign of a period craving.
If you are one of the unlucky people to suffer from lack of sleep during a period, then curbing those cravings through exercise may be a blessing. Because your sugar levels won’t be spiking and dropping throughout the day, it is much more likely that you’ll be able to enjoy a decent night’s sleep, which in turn will benefit your overall mood during your period.
Mitigating and dealing with period symptoms can really feel like an uphill battle sometimes, especially if you are not the sort of person who enjoys turning to hormones or painkillers to aid you. That’s why finding an exercise that works and is manageable for you when you’re menstruating is so helpful. It establishes a routine that your body can get used to over time and with every passing month, you should see improvements with your period symptoms both in the lead-up and during.
Of course, it is important to remember that while exercise is extremely beneficial, you should not force yourself to overwork yourself and stick to your same weight training routine, or even to work out at all if you simply don’t feel capable. Everyone experiences their period differently and listening to your body first and foremost will help you gauge what your body finds most comfortable.
However, if you are concerned about exercising during your period for health reasons, there’s no need to be concerned. It may even surprise you how much better you feel after some sort of movement; start out slow if you’ve never worked out on your period before and tailor your experience to how your body is reacting to it in order to get the most positive results possible.
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