How does the menstrual cycle affect exercise?
Your hormones change during each stage of your menstrual cycle. This can affect things such as your energy levels, metabolism, and mood. All of these factors can impact how you feel and what type of exercise you might do.
During the first half of your cycle – known as the follicular phase, you may feel quite energetic. This is because, after your period finishes, your body produces more oestrogen. Oestrogen is a female sex hormone which can boost your energy levels - and could increase your stamina for exercise. It is at its highest near to ovulation (when you release an egg from an ovary each month).
After ovulation, you enter the second half of your menstrual cycle – which is called the luteal phase. Towards the end of this time, you might find yourself feeling sleepier. This is because your body produces more progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone which can also make you feel warmer than you would be during the first stage of your cycle.
Metabolism and mood
There is some evidence to show that oestrogen may affect your metabolism. When your oestrogen levels increase during the first half of your cycle your body may burn more fat than usual during exercise. This means that if you do high intensity exercise during this time it might help you to maintain a healthy weight. Towards the end of your cycle your metabolism can also increase. But you may get cravings for carbohydrates before your period too. So, remember to still eat a balanced diet during this time.
You may also find that you feel better mentally after your period, which might make you want to exercise more. This is usually due to your oestrogen levels rising again. Then, near your period your mood might dip a little. This can occur when your progesterone levels increase – and when this happens you might feel less like being active.
How should you exercise at different stages of your cycle?
Everyone is different and you’ll need to find what works for you. But using the information you now have about the different phases of the cycle can help. For example, you could try using your extra energy in the first half of your cycle to do higher intensity exercise. This could include:
- HIIT workouts
- Dance classes
- Circuit training
It is very important to warm up properly during this time, as increased oestrogen can cause your muscles and joints to relax more than usual – making injury more likely.
During the second half of your cycle – and as your period is near, you might feel warmer and less energetic. This means you might like to switch to gentler styles of movement such as walking, cycling, yoga or Pilates.
Can exercise help with PMS?
Evidence has shown that exercise can help both in the days before and during your period. Before your period you might experience a range of symptoms classed as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). These can affect everyone differently but can include physical things like bloating and breast tenderness. You might also notice psychological symptoms such as feeling irritable or low in mood.
Exercise can help to support you during this time. Moderate exercise such as walking, yoga, or dancing can help to release feel good hormones called endorphins. These chemicals can help to improve your mood and reduce the pain of cramps and headaches.
What exercise is best during your period?
You might find that during your period itself you feel low in energy and a bit uncomfortable. This can make you want to skip exercise altogether. But you are likely to feel better if you do some gentle movement during this time – to get the blood flowing and increase your energy.
To help you plan what type of exercise to do when, you could start tracking your menstrual cycle using an app or period diary. Here you can record when your period starts, and any symptoms you have during the month. This can help you to notice any patterns in energy levels and mood – so you can plan your workouts accordingly.
If you notice you have very low energy during or after your period, or if menstrual pain stops you from exercising, then see a GP for support.