Does the thought of working out while on your period make you want to retire your running shoes for good? If you’re concerned about how your period will affect your fitness routine, you’re not alone.
For many reasons, a lot of people skip their workouts during this time of the month. But there’s really no reason to skip out on exercise just because you have your period.
The physical and mental benefits of exercise don’t stop just because you have your period. In fact, sticking with a routine can actually help ease some of the common complaints that accompany menstruation.
According to Dr. Christopher Holligsworth, the period is a complex time from a hormonal standpoint. “Both progesterone and estrogen are at their lowest during the entire length of the period phase of the menstrual cycle, which can make people feel tired and less energetic,” he explained.
With that said, avoiding exercise isn’t going to save energy or make you feel better. Instead of ceasing all activity during your period, use this week as an opportunity to try some new workouts. Here are five benefits of exercising during your period.
Decrease PMS symptoms
If you experience fatigue and mood swings in the days leading up to your period and during your cycle, regular aerobic exercise may lessen these symptoms.
Tap into your endorphins
Because exercise gives you a natural endorphin high, it can elevate your mood and actually make you feel better. Brandon Marcello, PhD, believes one of the main benefits of exercise while on your period is the endorphin release and workout “high.” He also said that since endorphins are a natural painkiller, when they release during exercise, you may feel relief from uncomfortable periods.
Experience more strength and power
One study found that the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle (day one being the first day of your period) may allow you to experience greater gains in strength and power due to low levels of female hormones.
Enhance your mood
Strength and conditioning coach and founder and CEO of BIRTHFIT, Dr. Lindsey Mathews, said exercising at this time will enhance your mood and increase circulation. Exercise also tends to alleviate cramps, headache, or back pain associated with your period.
Combat painful periods
If you experience painful periods, also called dysmenorrhea, you know all too well how uncomfortable this time of the month can be. The good news is that exercises such as light walking may help you decrease these symptoms.
The first few days of your period may be the most uncomfortable, especially if you tend to bleed a lot during this time. That’s why a focus on gentle movements and exercises should top your list of activities.
John Thoppil, OB-GYN, said the best exercise during your period is the one you feel like doing. That said, he stressed the importance of varying your workouts during this week. He also pointed out that your period may be a good time to reduce your exercise intensity. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for exercise while on your period.
Light walking or other light cardio
Keep your cardiovascular or aerobic exercise at a lower intensity or back off on the amount you do. Consider light cardio, walking, or shorter bouts of aerobic exercise. There’s research supporting the idea that your lungs work better later in your cycle, so consider keeping that type of training for the end of your period.
Low-volume strength training and power-based activities
Due to the potential for an increase in strength during this time, including low-volume strength training and power-based activities is a smart move. In fact, Matthews said this is a great time to do longer flow sessions that involve a mix of strictly strength work and cardio.
Yoga and Pilates
The two to three days leading up to your period is a great time to engage in activities like yoga, which can help relax your body and potentially reduce symptoms like cramping, breast tenderness, and muscular fatigue and soreness.
If you’re not experiencing any discomfort from your period, feel free to continue with your regular exercise routine. Just be mindful of the adjustments your body makes during this time. If you find that your body isn’t performing like it usually does, give yourself a break and ease up on the intensity.
Just like certain activities may be more appropriate to participate in during your period, there are also some exercises you may want to avoid. That said, many women will be able to continue with their normal exercise routine with just some minor adjustments.
In general, Marcello said you should reduce training stress and volume during this time. “This doesn’t mean to stop training — to the contrary, this just means to cut back a little bit,” he explained.
If you’re feeling unusually tired, you may want to cut back on intense cardiovascular or endurance-type training. “During this time many women report experiencing an increase in rate of perceived exertion, so exercises that’re moderately difficult feel much more difficult during this time,” explained Marcello. He said it’s also ideal to eliminate skill and precision training during these few days.
Regular exercise is beneficial for your body and your mind. There’s no scientific reason you should skip out on your workouts during your period. In fact, there’s evidence that exercise can be helpful during this time.
The bottom line is this: Continue with exercise, but back off on the intensity, especially if you’re feeling fatigued. Vary your workouts, take extra time to recover, and honor what you’re capable of.