I hate to tell you this, but endorphins might serve you better than a heating pad.
If you clicked on this headline, I’m proud of you. The last thing I want to hear when I’m bleeding and cramping is to freaking exercise.
How dare you suggest I move! I’m perfectly content to lie in the fetal position and feel sorry for myself.
That mindset didn’t fly when I got my period on a high school camping trip.
My intense cramps had me convinced I couldn’t handle the planned hike. Since the grown-ups couldn’t leave me alone (and believe me, I asked), I was doomed to be the girl whose uterus ruined everyone’s trip.
Greg, the male counselor I’d just met, asked what was up. Mortified, I mumbled, “I have cramps.”
He proceeded to drone on about how the hike would make me feel better. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was something like, “Blah blah blah, I am smug and smart and know what’s best for your body.”
Ah, if only “mansplaining” had been coined back in 2003.
But the most annoying part of his advice? Ugh… he was right. I agreed to try the hike, if only to shut him up.
After a mile of pouting and pain, a miracle happened: I felt better. My pain melted away and my mood improved as I took in the natural beauty around me. I had begrudgingly learned a valuable lesson about the power of exercising on your period.
So why did exercising help me, and how can it help you?
In a word: endorphins. Endorphins are brain chemicals with pain-relieving, pleasure-inducing properties.
Exercise releases endorphins, which increases the feel-good chemical dopamine and
Exercise also decreases inflammation, improves blood flow, and increases your energy over time. This is excellent news when you’re dealing with period-related pain and fatigue. Pretty cool, huh?
So what kind of exercise should you do? I’m glad you asked, because I wrote a whole guide below.
This is not the time to try CrossFit or other high-intensity, unfamiliar workouts. Do what already works for you, whether that’s yoga, hiking, weightlifting, etc.
Though your hormones fluctuate throughout your cycle, you always inhabit the same body. You already know what feels good for your body — and what doesn’t.
Work with what you already know works. Plus, not having to endure CrossFit is always a bonus.
What keeps you from exercising? For me, the hardest part is starting. I was resentful and in pain when I embarked on that fateful hike.
What motivated me back then was getting Greg off my case. What motivates me today is knowing how much better I will feel after.
What will motivate you to exercise while bleeding? Pain relief? Feeling proactive and in control of your health? Getting a break from your noisy upstairs neighbor who’s been blasting music all day without any consideration for the fact that you’re cranky and cramping?
Push yourself to at least try. Give it 5 minutes. If you hate it, you can always stop.
Obviously, you can’t use a pad if you’re swimming laps. Tampons are the classic active option, though many folks find tampons irritating or uncomfortable. And pads are even more “chafey” (chafe-inducing? chafe-tastic?) during physical activity.
Consider a menstrual cup, disc, or period underwear. Period underwear is magical: You just bleed and go about your day. Experiment with different products and see what works best for you.
A friend of mine who’s a menstrual activist taught me that my period is an opportunity to reflect, relax, and rest. It’s also a great time to bond with other bleeding folks in your community.
Yes, I’m encouraging you to get moving. I’m not encouraging you to push your body’s physical limits.
A walk around the neighborhood is exercise. A gentle yoga or stretching routine is exercise. Heck, sex is exercise.
Anything that gets you moving also gets your blood flowing and your endorphins popping. When it comes to physical activity, something is always better than nothing.
Every period is different. One month you may have a light flow, no cramps, and the energy of a superhero. But next month it might take all your energy to do a lap around the block.
Don’t get discouraged if your co-worker brags about their period productivity while your period sometimes forces you to call out of work.
Don’t let anyone else dictate your experience or feelings about your body or your period — including me.
If you’ve got other tips and tricks for working out on your period, I’d love to hear them.
And if you’re reading this, Greg, thanks for putting up with my teen angst — and, you know, teaching me a valuable lesson about the power of hiking (yeah, yeah, you were right).
Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer-day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland. Learn more about her on her website.