Exercise and periods
Are you wondering how to relieve period pain? Strangely enough there are exercises for period pain that can help to ease your cramps. Learn period exercises:
How does exercise help period pain?
Period pain affects up to 90% of menstruating women- so if you’re reading this and you have a period, the chances are high that you’ve also experienced period cramps too. Just in case, we’re talking about the throbbing/ cramping pains that you get in your abdomen, hips, lower back or pelvis, usually in the lead up to or the first few days of your period.
We talk more about period pains and what causes them here, but for now suffice to say they can make you feel pretty miserable for a few days each month. So how can exercise help with period pain?
The exact reasons why exercise seems to help with period cramps isn’t actually clear, but there are several theories:
Exercise releases endorphins
When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals that help to relieve pain, reduce stress and boost your mood. They do this by literally blocking the nerve cells that received the pain signals, helping you to feel good and keep going.
When you’ve got period cramps, releasing endorphins into the body is a fantastic way to bring pain levels down.
Exercise can help with fluid retention and bloating
Lots of women experience fluid retention and bloating during their period and the days leading up to it, and it can leave you feeling sluggish, full and uncomfortable. But did you know that exercise can actually help with this?
When we exercise, our bodies sweat out excess water, and as it burns through glycogen stores, excess fluid is reduced even further. Just make sure you drink enough water while you exercise though, as being dehydrated can make cramps even worse than before.
Exercise strengthens the body
When we exercise regularly, we’re creating a stronger, more physically fit body- one that can cope with extra stressors more efficiently than one that is more sedentary.
Strengthening your body can also encourage better posture, helping to ease cramps in the abdomen and back- not to mention you’re more likely to maintain core strength, which is essential for pelvic floor strength too.
Exercise can help with PMS symptoms
We’ve already talked about endorphins and their affect on physical pain, but these chemicals are also pretty good at lifting your mood too. So when PMS hits and all you want to do it hide under your duvet, a better course of action might be moving your body instead.
A workout is a fantastic way to reduce stress and to balance out symptoms of PMS. And studies have shown that regular exercise can significantly reduce low mood and anxiety linked to your menstrual cycle- so making it a part of your everyday routine is a must.
Exercise increases blood flow
Increased blood flow in the body aids in better circulation and can improve period cramps significantly. This can not only reduce bloating (by removing fluid build up) but it can improve tissue oxygenation and fight against cramping altogether.
What exercises help period pain?
In truth, there is no one exercise better suited to tackle period pain. A lot of it comes down to what you enjoy, and what you can maintain regularly. A consistent workout schedule is vital, not just for physical and emotional well being, but studies show it helps with menstrual pain too, as this study highlights. Around 45-60 minutes per session, at least three times a day has been found to be beneficial.
Here are some great exercises to try:
Yoga and deep breathing
Research shows that yoga can be hugely beneficial for easing period pains and relaxing the muscles. This study also reported a decrease in PMS symptoms too, highlighting the powerful meditative benefits that yoga can bring.
Deep breathing and yoga combined can work wonders to relax your muscles, improve circulation, remove blockages, and clear your mind. This type of yoga is called Yin Yoga. Why not try these six yoga poses to see if they help you with your cramps- not to mention these yoga postures for your pelvic floor.
Cardiovascular exercise is great for increasing blood flow throughout your body and moving the blood away from the areas that are causing you discomfort or pain.
This study looked at the effects of treadmill-based aerobic exercise as a treatment for period pain and found that pain improved significantly after performing this activity. And the great news is that this type of exercise can be done anywhere- you don’t have to use a treadmill.
There are lots of other cardio activities you can do, including fast-paced walking, running, kickboxing, and HIIT. This type of exercise really gets your endorphins flowing and that helps to reduce period cramps. Win win!
And just to add… okay, so it’s not technically an exercise, but there are some anecdotal reports that suggest menstrual cramps may be reduced if you have an orgasm. This is because the muscles of the uterus contract and then release, which could bring relief to your period pain. To learn more about the benefits of period sex, talking to your partner about it, and how to have it without too much mess, check out our blog post ‘Period Sex'.
If you enjoy swimming, then this could be the perfect exercise to soothe period pain. Swimming, like cardio, allows the blood flow to move around the body which reduces cramps, and it also takes the pressure off other joints such as the lower back. So if back pain is a problem for you during your period, swimming could be just what you need to ease the aches and get your endorphins flowing. Get yourself a period swimsuit for your light flow days and spotting, and go for it!
Dancing to your favourite tunes could help you to shift the period pain, whilst giving you a boost emotionally. You could explore a local Zumba class or simply put on your favourite music at home and let loose. Dancing can also help maintain flexibility of your joints and ease period stiffness too. Plus, we all feel better when we crank up our favourite song and just let the music take us for a few minutes. Try it!
Strength training is an excellent idea, and not just because it can release those endorphins to fight pain. Studies have shown that building muscle can also protect women against osteoporosis in later life, and can improve bone density in general too.
And what stage of your menstrual cycle you train in can play a huge role too- research shows that this type of exercise packs a powerful punch for muscle gaining if you do it during the follicular phase of your cycle. So hitting the gym in the first two weeks of your cycle can really help you to build muscle and improve your strength and fitness than any other time of the month.
However, it’s important to take care not to lift too heavy, as this may cause pressure on your stomach and damage to tendons, which will lead to further discomfort. Make sure to pay particular attention to your form and not how many reps you’re pumping out.
The bottom line on exercise and periods
The truth of the matter is that not only is it possible for you to exercise whilst on your period, it’s also recommend that you do so. Exercise has the power to boost your mood, ease cramps and keep the blood pumping. But remember that it should form part of your regular routine, and not something you only do when period cramps hit.
Exercising all month long is crucial for overall health, and so that your body and mind will be fitter and more able to cope with exercising during your period. Research has also shown that your lungs work better during day 1 to day 14 of your cycle, so just as lifting weight is best during this part of your cycle, doing a more intense workout at this point may also be a good idea. Bt why is this? Its all down to hormones, of course, and how they change as your cycle progresses:
- During the first week, oestrogen and progesterone levels are really low- this is a great time to ramp up the intensity in the gym or to pick up the pace of your walk.
- After your period ends and your cycle moves into week two, your energy levels could increase even further, as oestrogen levels start to rise in preparation for ovulation.
- By week three, oestrogen levels are peaking and then falling sharply as progesterone rises. At this point you may feel more tired and less energetic, so take your workouts down a little.Gentle walks, yoga and swimming is a good idea at this point in your cycle. Don't be tempted to skip the gym though, as staying active even during this point of your cycle will work wonders to boost your mood.
- Week four can be hard, but physical activity at this stage of your cycle can really help to combat PMS symptoms as both oestrogen and progesterone levels fall.
Its a really good idea to keep a fitness tracker and observe what happens to your energy levels and enthusiasm as your cycle progresses each month. Then you can adapt your workouts according to your emotional and physical needs, to get the most out of your fitness journey.
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The Benefits of Swimming on Your Period
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Does exercise make you bleed more on your period?
Exercise won’t make your period heavier, but it might feel as though you’re losing more blood than if you were to sit still. Its all down to gravity. As your moves, you allow the blood to flow more feely. When you stop to sit or lie down, the blood cannot flow as freely, so will seem as though your period is lighter.
We recommend always wearing a good pair of period pants for your workout, or even better- period leggings. WUKA reusable period underwear is 100% leak-proof, even when you’re at the gym, so you can workout in confidence.
Is exercise good for periods?
Yes. Some exercises are better than others for easing period cramps, but all forms of movement will be beneficial to your body and mind. Keep an eye on where you are in your cycle an try to incorporate some movement into your routine regularly. Find the activities you enjoy as that will make it easier to stick to.
Which exercises should be avoided during your period?
All exercises can be done at any time during your cycle, but we do advise you listen to your body and do what feels best for you at that time.
Its probably a good idea to avoid heavy lifting if you’re feeling fatigue or particularly low on energy, and skip any class or activity that you know is going to make your cramps feel worse rather than better. We’re all different though- so if a spin class does it for you, go for it. If you know that particular activity will make you feel nauseous, you know what to do too.
Can exercise help period pains?
Exercise can be a very powerful tool when it comes to fighting period pains. Movement can release endorphins, which can boost the mood, lift your spirits and ease pain too. Not only that, but exercise gets the blood pumping which can improve circulation and reduce bloating in the body.