Exercise and Your Menstrual Cycle
Fluctuations in hormone levels throughout your menstrual cycle can impact the effectiveness of your exercise routine. Your energy levels will skyrocket at some points throughout the month, while other times, you may feel sluggish and tired. Tracking these changes can allow you to use your cycle to your advantage to stay fit and healthy.
If you find you're sluggish and tired during your period, don't be surprised. There's science to support the notion that you need to use the week to focus on regeneration and recovery activities. On the other hand, you may find you feel strong and enthusiastic about exercise while you're ovulating. If you feel great, there is no medical reason you should change your workout program simply because you're on your period, but there are times when you may be more prone to injury.
Menstrual cycle phases
To learn what points in the month are most and least conducive for exercise, it helps to understand your menstrual cycle.
Menstruation. This phase begins with the first day of bleeding and may last anywhere from three to seven days. Low estrogen and progesterone levels may make you more lethargic than usual.
Follicular phase. A new egg begins to mature and your estrogen level begins to rise, bringing with it an increase in your energy level. This may cause a change in the stretch reflex function of your muscles, leaving you open to injury.
Ovulation. Reproductive hormones are at their highest during this phase, and so are energy levels. You'll likely feel strong and ready to hit the gym during this time.
Luteal phase. Hormones are a bit more erratic during this phase, which begins after ovulation and can last up to 14 days, so you may feel tired and cranky. An increase in body temperature may be linked with an increase in energy expenditure and hunger.
Benefits of exercise during your period
Exercise may help to reduce menstrual cramps and improve your mood during your period. The increase in movement and mobility and the accompanying release of endorphins is known to help reduce the effects of painful cramping. If you experience debilitating cramps, however, you should still consult your doctor to be sure there are no underlying conditions that may need to be addressed medically.
Many women experience mood swings or a dip in energy during their period. Exercise may help improve your state of mind as well as lift feelings of lethargy. Plus, when you work out, you're more likely to drink water, which helps alleviate PMS-related bloating and discomfort.
Drawbacks of exercise during your period
Changes in hormone levels throughout your cycle can leave you vulnerable to injury. While there is no scientific evidence indicating it's unsafe to exercise at high-intensity levels during these times, it is important to pay attention to how your body feels and take a rest-and-recovery day, or week, if you need it.
If your energy levels or the stress on your joints make you feel like you need a break, take advantage of your period to focus on activities such as yoga or light cardiovascular exercise. Forcing yourself to keep up with your normal exercise routine may result in muscle or joint injuries.
Fluctuating hormone levels during each of the four phases of your monthly menstrual cycle may have an effect on how you feel both physically and mentally. While it is safe to continue with your regular workout program, it is acceptable to take advantage of these hormonal changes to get the most out of your strength and conditioning program as well as your recovery program.