Can lifestyle changes improve my periods?

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
14 September 2022
Next review due September 2025

Sources used in this article are based on data for biological women – more studies are needed to provide accurate figures for trans people.

Having heavy or painful periods is surprisingly common, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you need to put up with. Your doctor may suggest you take various medications to control your periods. Here, I’ll explore whether lifestyle changes can also improve your pain and discomfort.

woman pausing to tie her hair while running

What are healthy periods?

Periods can be different for everyone. A sign of a healthy period is that it causes you minimal to no pain. It also means your flow is light to moderate and it doesn’t disrupt your daily life. How you feel before your period matters, too.

Normal periods shouldn’t cause you too many symptoms of premenstrual tension (PMT) before you menstruate, either. Unfortunately, for many women this is not the case. For about 1 in 10 women, their pain is so severe that it disrupts their daily lives. And around three quarters of women experience some form of PMT.

What causes period problems?

Heavy bleeding during your periods can result from having conditions such as endometriosis, polyps or fibroids. Period pain can happen if you have either primary or secondary dysmenorrhea.

Primary dysmenorrhea means pain resulting from your period itself. It’s caused by chemicals that are released during menstruation, called prostaglandins. With primary dysmenorrhea there isn’t an underlying condition, but your pain can still be bad enough to disrupt your daily life.

With secondary dysmenorrhea the pain is caused by another condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids. Finding out the cause for your pain can help you to find the best treatment.

What is the treatment for period problems?

A doctor or gynaecologist may suggest you take the contraceptive pill to improve your period symptoms. The reason for this is it can thin your uterine lining and reduce the number of prostaglandins your body makes. It may also help with heavy periods.

If the birth control pill is not suitable for you, you may instead be offered an intrauterine system (IUS). This creates similar hormonal changes but more locally to your uterus (womb). Using an IUS may lower your chance of other side-effects. Painkillers are usually suggested, too, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS).

What lifestyle changes affect my periods?

The following are some changes you can make, to help reduce your period pain and improve your energy and mood.

Get more active

Evidence shows that moving more often is a good option for improving your periods. Regular exercise may be able to reduce symptoms of pain, improve fatigue and boost your mental health before and during your periods. Exercise doesn’t need to be strenuous to help – yoga has been shown to reduce pain scores, as well as cardio workouts like aerobics.

Exercise may help with your period pain in a number of ways. It can reduce the amount of pain-causing prostaglandins your body makes, as well as producing endorphins, which have a natural pain killing effect.

Find time to relax

If you have a busy life, taking time out isn’t always easy. But regularly relaxing can reduce your period symptoms. Studies have shown that being stressed before your period can make symptoms of PMT worse.

Taking time to relax can also help you to sleep better, which in turn is important for both pain management and your mental wellbeing. Studies looking at relaxation and period pain have used techniques such as yoga or meditation – but you could also try having a warm bath, reading a book, or just taking a short nap.

Eat a healthy balanced diet

Having a well-balanced diet is important for all areas of your health. But studies have shown that specific nutrients may help you to have better periods. For example, magnesium can help relax your muscles, including the muscles of your uterus (womb). Dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, and dark chocolate contain magnesium.

Getting enough omega 3 is also a good idea. This is because omega 3 can help to control the type of prostaglandins your body produces, which may help with your pain scores. Having oily fish once or twice a week should give you the quantity of omega 3 you need. You could also take vegan-friendly supplements.

Staying hydrated, reducing salt, and having plenty of high-fibre foods such as oats and brown rice can also help you feel better before and during your periods.

Sleep well

Many women struggle to sleep well during their periods. But getting enough quality sleep can help you to manage your symptoms – of both pain and PMT. You could try the following:

  • avoid screens before bed
  • wind down with a good book
  • get up at the same time each day

You might also like to take a hot water bottle to bed with you to reduce the pain overnight. Doing some breathing exercises or a short yoga practice can also help you to get the rest you need.

For some women making these lifestyle changes can be sufficient to reduce the symptoms of painful or heavy periods. But other women may need extra help and support to manage their periods, especially if the pain is due to secondary dysmenorrhea.

Keeping a period diary can help you to keep track of your symptoms, so you can get the help you need.

Infographic: Lifestyle changes for better periods

The infographic below illustrates the above lifestyle change tips for better periods. Click on the image to download a PDF version of the infographic [PDF, 1.2 MB].

Lifestyle changes for better periods graphic: be active, relax, sleep well, a healthy, balanced diet

If you have heavy, painful, or irregular periods, you’ll know just how disruptive they can be, both physically and mentally. With our Period Plan, you don’t have to face these problems alone.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

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