How exercise can help ease PMS

Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Fitness, Mind & Body by

When you’re experiencing premenstrual syndrome symptoms and feeling below par, curling up on the couch trumps hitting the gym. But what if we told you that working out during your PMS can relieve some of the dreaded symptoms?

 

What is Premenstrual Syndrome?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) refers to a collection of physical and emotional symptoms that many women experience in the lead up to their period – generally this occurs around 5-7 days before bleeding. Although the exact cause of this syndrome is vague, fluctuating hormones, nutrient deficiencies, age, stress, and genetics have been mentioned as risk factors.

Irritability, abdominal cramps, tender breast, headaches, insomnia, or skin breakouts are just some of the symptoms that will not only have the ability to ruin your day (or week), but can’t muster the energy to lace up your sneakers.

However, you might not want to skip training entirely during this period. According to a recent review published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine, which included a total of 17 studies carried out on 8817 women showed that regardless of the type of exercise, regular exercise, appears to be effective in relieving the physical and psychological symptoms associated with PMS. Scientists believe it’s the profound effect that exercise has on brain chemicals that helps to regulate and improve many of these uncomfortable feelings.

Best ways to handle common PMS symptoms while working out.

Menstrual cramps

Period pain, including cramping and heaviness in the pelvic area happens when the muscles in the uterus contract or tighten, causing a reduction in blood flow. This pain is often referred to as dysmenorrhoea and is triggered by hormone-like substances (prostaglandins). If you aren't bound to your bed in the fetal position with a heat pack, get moving. Doing some cardio-based activities, such as brisk walking, jogging, rowing or cycling increases blood flow and endorphins—which act as a natural painkiller to help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort caused by cramp-inducing muscle contractions. If the pain is too severe that you can’t carry on daily activities, speak to your doctor.
Bloating: Cellulite or looking like you’re 4-months pregnant can give the appearance of weight gain, but rest assured the excess fluid retention is as a result of fluctuating hormones. Since exercise encourages a healthy blood flow in the uterus, this will help to release some of the excess fluid that causes swelling, tenderness and cramping. While it may not inspire you to wear lycra, wear loose-fitting and breathable clothing for extra comfort while exercising and pay extra attention to your diet by reducing salty foods, alcohol and increasing your water and fibre intake to help alleviate bloating, breast tenderness and constipation.

Fatigue

It is normal to feel zapped in the lead up to your period, which is generally caused by a natural dip in serotonin - a brain chemical associated with mood regulation. This is sometimes compounded by insomnia and changes in body temperature which can impact overall sleep quality. Take a break from hard-core activities and switch to low-impact workouts like yoga, Barre, Pilates or walking, activities that tone down the intensity, but still improve blood flow and release endorphins to help boost your energy levels, lift your mood and assist deeper sleep cycles.

Mood swings

Whether you go for a run to clear your head, or walk home from work to decompress, or do yoga to de-stress, in short, the link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. In fact, scientists have even found that regular exercise may be as effective in treating minor depression as therapy and prescription drugs. What’s more, frequent exercise helps you better process negative emotions that may be associated with poor eating habits, overeating or drinking alcohol. In order to reap these feel-good effects, engage in at least 30 minutes of continuous exercise on most days of the week at a moderate pace. Be careful not to go overboard, as excessive exercise can cause a person to miss their period (common in elite athletes). Listen to your body and vary your workouts where required, taking extra time to recover, and honouring what you’re capable of.

Kathleen is a trusted health expert in the field of nutrition and fitness. She is an exercise physiologist and nutritionist, author and founder of The Right Balance. Follow Kathleen on Instagram and Twitter, or get in touch: [email protected]

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