Exercise is the best magical potion that works wonders on the human body and lately a lot has been spoken about making it an integral part of our lifestyles. We women are very often finding excuses to not exercise given our female problem of the “not to be spoken in public- Aunt Flo visits” and all the myths surrounding it. Shruti Vohra, Women Discus Thrower, Team India says “I have heard so many of them. Someone told me once that I shouldn’t workout during period, because it will create problems for me when I would deliver a baby”
The million dollar question is not whether to exercise or not but is- how and when to exercise around the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle involves various systems of your body (reproductive, hormonal, nervous), chemicals (hormones, enzymes) and most importantly your Physical and Mental well-being. During this entire process, there is a cyclic increase and decrease in surges (quantities) of various hormones. Estrogen and Progesterone are the main hormones that have crucial effects on the physiology, nervous and musculoskeletal systems, making it a must for every woman to understand the co-relation of the Menstrual Cycle with Exercise and Fitness.
Estrogen is in a higher surge from Day 6 to Day 17-18 of the cycle with a spike during Day 13-14 while Progesterone has a smaller surge during this time i.e. effects of Estrogen override effects of Progesterone. Progesterone starts its higher surge from approximately Day 19 to Day 28 with its peak around Day 22.
Manasi Rajyadaksha, Head of Physiotherapy at HEAL Institute lists down the various effects of Progesterone and Estrogen on the physiological and musculoskeletal systems and how they affect your exercise routine.
While the above factors help us understand why our body feels at it’ best and a better activity/ exercise performance usually in the mid third of the cycle and feels sluggish and less motivated during the first and last thirds of the cycle including the days of menstruation. During menstruation and the pre-menstrual period (usually 6-7 days before menstruation) the body is more prone to injury and aches and pains, hence it is important for you to modify your exercises during these days.
Aditi Nazre (16 years), National Swimming Champion regularly exercises and swims throughout her periods except day 1. Uma Nazre (Aditi’s Mom) usually goes for a 5-6 km walk everyday and prefers some light stretching as she doesn’t believe in the myth of zero physical activity during periods.
Manasi lists down some suggestions on how you can modify your exercise schedule.
- Type of exercise: Ensure your exercise is less impactful e.g.: Walking, cycling, gym (lighter weights and more reps), stretch a lot as it helps relax your muscles and body
- Intensity of exercise: Keep it more easy going. E.g. a mix of walk and jog instead of running, avoid functional training, CrossFit- like training , no jumping/ box jumps, intense dance/Zumba sessions
- The frequency of exercise: Work on it based on your muscle recovery, soreness, signs of niggles/pain e.g. workout 2-3 times/ week instead of 5-6 times/ week. Megha Bhatnagar, Senior Physiotherapist and as a working woman who exercises regularly emphasise on how one should respect your body and slow down the workouts. She adds further “Use these days as your rest days, the muscles would get enough rest and much needed repair during this time and come back stronger!”
Exercising during PMS can feel most gruesome and sluggish and you might be feeling “Heavy and Oh so Fat and Bloated!” Don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated and do not reduce your water intake as your body only flushes excess when it has a new influx.
So period or no periods, continue doing your exercise by listening to your body as it is always giving you the best tell-tale signs.
About the Author
Manasi Rajadhyaksha is the Head of Physiotherapy at The HEAL Institute. She has a MSc Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation from University of Kent, UK and worked for the past 9 years with leading health care institutions in India and United Kingdom.