As we all know this past year has been beyond the unexpected, and merely surviving it is quite a triumph. With restrictions in place on travel, borders, schools and social distancing, it’s no surprise that exercise was also one of the many things that became restricted and more difficult to achieve. In turn this causes an increase in feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. A survey published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 22.4 per cent of active Canadians became less active during the pandemic. However, with the restrictions in place on outdoor, studio and gym workouts, there was a surge towards online based exercise classes and coaching. Turning your food tins in your cupboards into weights and using other household items to keep our bodies moving.
Our periods certainly didn’t stop due to a global pandemic, so what about exercising during your period? How does being active and moving your body help with our menstrual cycle, and what are the better kind of exercises to do?
HOW DOES EXERCISE IMPROVE PERIODS
At the start of your period, your low levels of oestrogen and progesterone may have you feeling pretty unmotivated to exercise, and the last thing you feel like doing is crawling out from under the blanket to get your body moving. Studies have shown that gentle exercise during your period not only improves your mood, it can actually relieve some of the unfavourable period symptoms.
After 30 minutes or more of aerobic exercise, your body releases endorphins, the happy hormone, these help by improving your mood, and also reducing the feelings of anxiety, depression and physical pain.
The blood circulation induced by the physical activity, also increases blood flow to the abdomen, helping to ease contractions in the uterus and pelvic floor, as well as improving lower back pain and easing any period headaches.
The combined blood circulation and physical exercise also helps to relieve the bloated feelings by helping the body to reduce any excess water retention, in turn reducing bloating and making you feel much better!
WHAT EXERCISE TO DO ON YOUR PERIOD
Once you have convinced yourself out of your cosy fortress, what are the best types of exercise to do during your period? Every menstruator is different, so it is key to listen to your body during your cycle, if something doesn’t feel right, always stop and rest, and don’t over-do it.
Yoga is one of the most encouraged forms of exercise during your monthly cycle. The stretching during yoga positions helps to relax the abdominal muscles and decrease the contractions going on in your uterus that causes cramps, it also helps to stretch out the rest of your body, increasing blood flow and reducing back pain and headaches. The deep breathing that goes along with yoga practise also helps to relax muscles, whilst easing anxiety, irritability, and mood swings.
However, it is encouraged to avoid any inversion yoga poses during your period. Despite this being a theory and not scientifically proven, the inversion poses are thought to compress the veins that are moving blood away from the uterus and cause there to be more blood retained in the uterus than normal. Inversions can also cause ‘head rushes’ which can in turn cause increased dizziness when moving out of the posture.
Aerobic exercise, especially walking, is the simplest form of exercise to enjoy during your period. It doesn’t require any necessary equipment, and you can wear your comfiest of clothes, take your time, and adjust your speed and intensity however you wish. The blood circulation caused by walking helps to work with the muscles in your abdomen and uterus to relax more and calm those cramps, whilst the body releases those happy hormones making you feel better. If you are a regular runner, gentle jogging on your period doesn’t need to be avoided, however prolonged strenuous exercise might not be good for the body when you are menstruating and can be known to cause further inflammation. If you run regularly and you feel up to it, just take it easy, maybe try an easier route or with reduced elevation and a slower pace.
Swimming is a gentle, period friendly exercise. As long as you are taking it easy, and not speeding down the lanes or through the pool, swimming relaxes every muscle in the body. Easing away cramps, alleviating back pain and moving your body. A study by Carter et. al showed that just immersing yourself in water increases blood flow to the brain, improving your memory, mood, concentration and cognitive function in general.
Strength training, and this might be a surprise to some people, but if you’re up to it, gentle strength exercises can be good to do on your period. You could consider using lighter weights than you are normally used to. With reduced levels of the progesterone hormone in your system breaking down protein, strength training can be a good form of exercise during your period, and a good time to build muscle. However, as with any strength training exercise, listen to your body, especially while your menstruating, and don’t overdo it.
WHAT TO WEAR WHEN YOUR EXERCISING
Over the last few years activewear has become a whole other wardrobe category of its own, and one we have happily embraced! With cropped, long, loose, tight, retro or classic, there is a styling combo for everyone who wants it. Hopefully making even those difficult period day choices a little bit easier. It is always important to be comfortable when exercising, however even more so when you’re menstruating. You may be feeling bloated or retaining water so it’s essential to feel comfortable for your exercise. You also want to make sure you are wearing the right kind of period protection. Make sure you choose something your comfortable with, if you haven’t used a cup before, now may not be the time to try it as it can be distracting and uncomfortable if not inserted quite right.
Period underwear can be perfect for exercising while you’re menstruating. You can choose a product that is right for your level of flow that day so you don’t have to be distracted worrying about leaks. You can also choose the right style for you. For example, a period underwear thong for you light days will be unknown to anyone else that you are fully protected under your favourite workout tights, or a period protection bodysuit for an easy yoga flow feeling.
Photo credits ©: Cristina Gareau