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Exercising During Period: Benefits and Things to Avoid

Exercising while on your period might seem like a counterintuitive thing to do, but it can really help you alleviate menstrual symptoms. There are, however, some limitations that you need to be aware of.
A woman exercisig on her period

Exercise is a really good option to promote a healthy lifestyle for most people. For women, this can be especially important when it comes to hormonal balance and the conditions that are particular to females. There are some proven exercises and techniques that can be very beneficial for you during your menstrual cycle, as well as some things that should be avoided during this time. The following will provide you with information about the dos and don’ts of exercising during your period.

Benefits of exercising during your period

Many women feel that exercise is the last thing that they would want to do while they have their menstrual cycle and others have heard various myths about exercise in general.  But exercise that is exactly what you should be doing. Exercise on your period has been proven to alleviate many symptoms associated with your cycle.

These symptoms can include:

  • pain
  • cramps
  • bloating
  • depression
  • mood swings
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • nausea

These are just a few of the benefits you could experience while exercising during your period. In addition, general physical fitness is important for female health and can reduce the risk of serious medical issues as we age. These diseases and conditions include heart attack, stroke, arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes and more. The best thing about exercise is that it does not need to be a strenuous workout, nor every day to help. A recent study to address inactivity among adults in Canada found that “substantial evidence exists to support the benefits of exercise on at least 30 chronic diseases”.

There are physical and chemical changes that occur in a woman’s body during menstruation that can be alleviated by exercise. In fact, exercise itself can affect your body physically and chemically. Through exercise, you can increase the production of endorphins (“feel-good hormones”) and reduce anxiety, depression, pain, thus improving your mood.

Best exercise

Best exercises to do on your period

Most people would suggest that during your period you should do the exercises you can tolerate, the ones that are good for your body, and the ones you like to do. For many women, the first day or two of their periods may be a problem time for some to exercise. This is typically due to a very heavy flow. During this time, you may feel more comfortable exercising in the privacy of your own home. If your periods are like this, take it a little easier on these days and modify your exercises to accommodate this.

So, what exercises are the best choices to do while on your period? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Walking: this is an easy exercise that you can incorporate into your day and usually does not require any special equipment, clothing or location. Even better is that it really does not take that much time and you can adjust your speed to fit your level of discomfort during that time.
  • Light cardio or aerobic exercise: this is not meant to be a stressful workout. The key word here is “light”. This can be a shorter amount of time on the cycle or in the pool, but far less time than you would normally devote any other day.
  • Strength training: If you are up to it, try some low-volume exercises. You should decrease the weight you might normally use. No really heavy-duty lifting at this time in your cycle.
  • Gentle stretch and balancing: yoga is great for relaxation of the muscles and decreasing cramps and pain. Do only upright positions though (more information below). Pilates is good for stretching muscles and reducing cramps and the menstrual pain that comes with them. Tai Chi is good for reducing tension and stress. 

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Exercising while on period: things to avoid

Exercise while on your period should not put additional stress on your body, cause additional pain or interfere with the normal process of your cycle. You want to use exercise during your period as a positive tool and there are certain things that you should avoid doing. They are as follows:

  • Strenuous exercise or exercise for a prolonged period of time could do harm to your body when you are menstruating. This doesn’t mean to stop what you normally do, but just cut back some. A study published in the Journal of Physiotherapy & Physical Rehabilitation concluded that 60 minutes of moderate to intense exercise performed by women during menstruation caused exercise-induced inflammation. 
  • Inversion-type poses with yoga are not recommended. There are two philosophies when it comes to this type of pose. Some individuals that practice yoga feel that there is a spiritual reason that inversion poses should be avoided during menstruation. They feel that these positions go against the normal flow of energy during this time, could stop or disturb the flow and possibly lead to other reproductive problems later on. The second is a physiological one. The physiological reason to avoid inversion poses is that the uterus is pulled toward the head during these positions. This can cause the broad ligaments that support this organ to stretch and cause a partial collapse of the veins that carry the blood supply away from the uterus. By doing so, it can lead to vascular congestion and increased bleeding. This is due to the fact that the arteries that supply the uterus continue to pump blood into the area.
  • Lastly, if you feel unusually fatigued, nauseous, or there is an increase in pain or discomfort, stop what you are doing and rest. If these symptoms continue — stop completely. This is not a time to subscribe to the idea of “no pain, no gain”. Listen to your body.
A body positive woman exercising on her period

Intimate hygiene for exercising on your period

Proper personal hygiene during your period is very important. Exercise may increase this concern in some women, but there are a few basic rules to follow. First of all, choose feminine products that you are comfortable using. If you are concerned about “leaking” while exercising during your period, then you might choose to use a tampon. However, if you do not normally use tampons, this is not the time to try them out. They can be distracting or painful if not inserted correctly.

There are other options when it comes to feminine products that work just as well or even better for some woman. They include pads, menstrual cups, and discs. You may find that you will need to combine some of these products to ensure that you are protected from any mishaps. But remember, use what works best for you. 

It is a good idea to carry some type of feminine products with you when you exercise anyway. It is never convenient when your period starts earlier than expected; this is especially true when you are working out in a public place. Many times, this can be caused by hormonal fluctuations.

After you complete your exercising or a workout, be sure to do the following to ensure cleanliness: 

  1. Bathe using soap or another body wash product.
  2. Change your underwear.
  3. Use a fresh pad or tampon.
  4. Change into other clothing if you feel that you got sweaty or leaked in any way.

Remember, even if you are close to the end of your period, the increased movement, different positions or stretching with exercise may cause you to spot. This is normal and will require some type of protection. However, if you experience spotting between periods for unexplained reasons, it is best to consult your healthcare provider.

Börjesson, M., Onerup, A., Lundqvist, S., & Dahlöf, B. (2016). Physical activity and exercise lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension: narrative review of 27 RCTs. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(6), 356-361. doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095786

Campo, R. A., Light, K. C., O’Connor, K., Nakamura, Y., Lipschitz, D., LaStayo, P. C., ... & Martins, T. B. (2015). Blood pressure, salivary cortisol, and inflammatory cytokine outcomes in senior female cancer survivors enrolled in a tai chi chih randomized controlled trial. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 9(1), 115-125. doi.org/10.1007/s11764-014-0395-x

Clennell, B. (2016). The Woman's Yoga Book: Asana and Pranayama for All Phases of the Menstrual Cycle. Shambhala Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=CRrIDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT8&dq=yoga++poses+to+avoid+menstruation&ots=psp9mDdkYC&sig=3-snAD1TQBxLNXY1QMk5OZ5KctY#v=onepage&q=yoga%20%20poses%20to%20avoid%20menstruation&f=false
Hayashida, H., Shimura, M., Sugama, K., Kanda, K., & Suzuki, K. (2016). Exercise-induced inflammation during different phases of the menstrual cycle. Journal of Physiotherapy and Physical Rehabilitation, 1, 121. DOI: 10.4172/2573-0312.1000121

Lasater, J. H. (2016). Relax and renew: Restful yoga for stressful times. Shambhala Publications. Chapter 12-14. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=aM3QDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT11&dq=inversion+yoga+poses+and+menstruation&ots=THV2qvJhAG&sig=4U9_pxCh7ecdnN4-XRcT79rQMFQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

Lehtisalo, J., Lindström, J., Ngandu, T., Kivipelto, M., Ahtiluoto, S., Ilanne-Parikka, P., ... & Luchsinger, J. (2016). Association of long-term dietary fat intake, exercise, and weight with later cognitive function in the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 20(2), 146-154.https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-015-0565-1


Ortiz, M. I., Cortés-Márquez, S. K., Romero-Quezada, L. C., Murguía-Cánovas, G., & Jaramillo-Díaz, A. P. (2015). Effect of a physiotherapy program in women with primary dysmenorrhea. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 194, 24-29. doi.org/10.1016/j.ejogrb.2015.08.008

Saanijoki, T., Tuominen, L., Tuulari, J. J., Nummenmaa, L., Arponen, E., Kalliokoski, K., & Hirvonen, J. (2018). Opioid release after high-intensity interval training in healthy human subjects. Neuropsychopharmacology, 43(2), 246. doi.org/10.1038/npp.2017.148

Thornton, J. S., Frémont, P., Khan, K., Poirier, P., Fowles, J., Wells, G. D., & Frankovich, R. J. (2016). Physical activity prescription: a critical opportunity to address a modifiable risk factor for the prevention and management of chronic disease: a position statement by the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine. British Journal of Sports Medicine, bjsports-2016. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096755

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