Could this be the most iconic image of a menstruating woman in sport?
Fight the urge to spend the day curled up on the sofa and instead work up a sweat whilst on your period. Exercise is proven to alleviate negative menstrual symptoms and boost mood.
Kiran Ghandi (far left) made headlines when she chose to run the 2015 London Marathon whilst on her period without a tampon or pad. The decision to ‘free bleed’ garnered huge criticism (from a largely male audience), yet it also broke the issue of periods in sport wide open. As Ghandi wrote in her blog, ‘because it is all kept quiet, women are socialised not to complain or talk about their own bodily functions, since no one can see it happening.’
Menstruation has been referred to as ‘the last taboo in sport’. Whilst we aren’t suggesting you ditch the tampon on your next trip to the gym (although why not!), the benefits of exercising on your period are plenty and proven. Read on to find out why and how you should keep active during your time of the month.
Say goodbye to menstrual cramps
Light to moderate intensity exercise is an important tool to ease menstrual cramps. Improved circulation reduces tension in your abdomen, lower back and legs. Relaxed uterine muscles = goodbye cramps. Crucially, endorphins released during exercise inhibit the communication of pain signals in the brain.
Lift your mood
Physical activity creates endorphins, a group of hormones secreted by the central nervous system which produce feelings of euphoria. Anxiety and low mood can spike when menstruating, so it is important to counter these symptoms by flooding your bloodstream with feel-good chemicals! Cardio and low-intensity exercise such as yoga, swimming or walking on the treadmill is ideal. Anything that gets your blood pumping and endorphins flowing is beneficial.
It is a little known fact that women are at their strongest during the follicular phase (first two weeks) of the menstrual cycle. As an anti-catabolic hormone, high oestrogen levels in this phase help to protect against muscle damage and promote recovery.
The body’s conditions are actually optimised for resistance training during this period: pain tolerance is at its highest, body temperate is lower and motor skills are high. A study of 56 women from Umeå University in Sweden found that working out in these first two weeks can be particularly beneficial. The results showed that leg strength, jump height, and flexibility were all improved at a much faster rate for the women who were working out in their cycle’s first two weeks.
Exercise is proven to improve sleep, which can be disrupted when menstruating. Read our top tips for getting a good night’s sleep on your period here. Low-impact exercise can also boost energy levels and combat feelings of fatigue that hit when Aunt Flo comes to stay.
The most important thing is to listen to your body and make smart decisions. If you are having a good period and feeling energised, then get to the gym and use those hormonal fluctuations to your advantage. But if you’re feeling bloated, tired and plagued by cramps or headaches, aim for regular, light-intensity physical activity instead. Remember to always stay hydrated too.