Exercise During Period: Benefits & Myths
There are a lot of myths about periods and women’s stamina or ability to exert ourselves physically when we’re having a period.
But the truth is exercising during your period has a number of benefits, for both body and mind.
Can You Exercise on Your Period?
It’s a simple answer: Yes, you can exercise on your period.
We recommend staying within your normal exercise regime while you’re on your period. This isn’t a time to try to take your performance to the next level or start a brand new workout.
If your daily exercise is a walk to work, keep doing it. But if your body is used to weight training and cardio, you can do those things too.
Ultimately, listen to your own body. You might want to take a break and that’s okay too.
But it’s worth knowing that while your brain might be saying “Netflix and chill” your body might actually benefit from a little gentle exercise. Let’s look at those benefits!
Benefits of Exercising on Your Period
A study published by the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, showed that 8 weeks of aerobic exercise significantly improved the severity of pain in primary dysmenorrhea [painful menstruation].
But what are the concrete benefits of exercise? Read on...
It Will Lift Your Mood
Exercise releases endorphins (this is why people get addicted to the high they get from working out). But it doesn’t have to be running a marathon or gritting your teeth through an epic training session. You will benefit even from gentle exercise. So if you’re suffering from PMS symptoms, exercise may help.
It doesn’t have to be a full-on workout even. Crank the tunes and have a dance party. Go for a gentle walk. Even a little exercise can help you feel like your normal self again.
Those endorphins that lift your mood? They also act as natural painkillers. So, if you’re experiencing cramps or lower back pain as a result of your period, exercise can provide some pain relief for these symptoms.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, “Researchers have found that some women have fewer painful cramps during menstruation if they exercise regularly.”
Because of changing estrogen levels before that time of the month, it’s not uncommon to feel exhausted. Although exercise burns energy, it also boosts energy levels. So if you’re feeling tired and blue, some exercise can perk up your energy and make you feel less groggy and worn out.
Best Exercises to Do
Since every woman has a different period and a different relationship with exercise, it’s difficult to generalize for every woman. If you’re a high-performing athlete, you’ll be able to continue training at that level when you’re on your period.
But for most of us, it’s probably great to stay with light exercise.
- Walking: Walking is a pretty powerful exercise. It offers low impact but can be a full body workout (especially if you get those arms moving). Plus, it’s free to go for a walk! And you can enjoy some time in nature while doing it, which will also lift your mood.
- Home workouts: Not really up for spandex and gyms? A little light stretching at home can provide a lot of benefits.
- Swimming: Swimming is another gentle exercise that offers a full physical workout with light resistance. Now, we get it: You may feel insecure about leaks or just not in the mood to don a swimsuit… But if you do, this is a great exercise choice.
- Low Volume Strength Training: Maybe save the powerlifting for another day. But some low volume strength training combined with gentle cardio is a great combination.
- Yoga and Pilates: Yoga and/or pilates are great for stretching and helping with back pain. They also promote calm meditation which may help with stress levels and mood.
If you’re exercising on your period and experience any discomfort or dizziness, stop. Take a moment and just be mindful before you decide whether to continue. Be gentle on yourself and give yourself permission to take it easy if that’s what your body is asking for.
How to Make Yourself Comfortable Exercising
Leaks are a reality for many women on their heavy flow days of their period. And it can be a fear that puts you off working out when you’re on your period.
If you’re soaking one tampon or pad in under an hour, you should chat with your doctor about your flow and what it could mean.
If you’re just nervous, consider giving yourself some extra support. Leakproof Underwear is great for giving you a little extra reassurance.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relief
If you’re thrown off your normal exercise regime due to period pain, consider some over-the-counter pain relief for your symptoms, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
You can also use a heating pad to ease the pain and cramping caused by your period, and to feel better.
Because exercise will also help with your pain levels, it will benefit you to exercise. And if a little pain relief helps you get going, that may remove one annoying obstacle.
Hydration is important whenever you work out.
Two side effects of dehydration include bloating and constipation. While you’re menstruating you definitely don’t want to add these symptoms to the mix. So, make sure you’re drinking water every 15 minutes and keep your water bottle handy throughout your workout.
Rest When You Need
High performing, professional athletes may get through their period days without compromising on their workout. But for the rest of us, it’s okay to take it a little easy.
Don’t punish yourself if you’re not performing at the same level or breaking all your personal records. Instead, give yourself credit for any effort you make and accept if you can’t do that either.
Misconceptions About Exercising During Your Period
Almost any time we talk about periods, there are also some myths to be debunked. Here are three that relate to exercise during your period.
You Should Avoid (Yoga) Inversions
Often a yoga instructor will suggest menstruating women abstain from inverted poses like shoulder stands and headstands.
Many have assumed that this is a medical concern and that being inverted will disrupt flow. But that’s not the case. Remember our bodies pump blood against gravity and we still menstruate while laying down…
So where does this idea come from? It’s actually more philosophical: In yoga, menstruation is considered to be apana, meaning that energetically, it is downward-flowing. So the thought among some yoga practitioners is to go with that energy flow. However, there is no real consensus and different schools of yoga have differing opinions too.
Working Out Will Lighten Your Flow
Regular exercise and a healthy diet can impact body fat, which may impact menstrual flow. But this is a long-term lifestyle choice.
It doesn’t mean a sporadic workout will in any way impact your period. Once your period begins, your flow is what it is. It will work its way through your menstrual pattern.
For most women this means 5-7 days, starting with light flow, heavy flow for about 3 days and then tapering off again.
You're More Likely to Get Injured on Your Period than at Other Times in Your Cycle
The BBC reported, “Midway through the cycle, the level of the female sex hormone oestrogen, which gives strength to muscles and ligaments, drops dramatically, resulting in sudden weakness. At the end of the cycle levels of another hormone, relaxin, rise.This is to allow the cervix to open so that menstruation can occur, but it also means the ligaments in general are softened.The researchers found that strains and other injuries were more likely at both these stages.”
So, there are in fact two stages of your menstrual cycle when injury; one around ovulation and the other just before menstruation begins.
Moreover, if you experience a particularly heavy flow, you may be anemic and other symptoms of anemia include dizziness and fatigue. But if this is the case, the cause of your dizziness is anemia due to blood loss, not a period, and you should seek medical advice.
Interestingly, a study in The Journal of Athletic Training did find “the likelihood of an ACL injury does not remain constant during the menstrual cycle. Instead, the risk of an ACL disruption is greater during the preovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle than the postovulatory phase.”
This means you’re more at risk of an ACL injury before ovulation than during your period.
Whenever you work out - either during your period or not - also exercise some common sense.
You know what your own body is used to and how it normally performs, what feels normal and what feels like you’re pushing yourself too far. Remember: The goal is to feel better.
Start gentle, stay hydrated and give yourself permission to take it easy or stop altogether if you’re not feeling it.