Contrary to what some women believe, doing physical activity when you are on your period has both physical and emotional benefits. Knowing what to do and at what stage is key.
Advisors: Fiorella D’croz – Physical therapist and specialist in Therapeutic Physical Exercise
James Madrid – Sports medicine doctor, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
Doing exercise and having your period don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. In fact, the idea that exercise cannot be done during a menstrual cycle is inaccurate. It is important to note that menstruating every month is a symbol of being healthy and not having disease, as it is a sign of the body having a good hormonal environment.
While the benefits of doing exercise at any age and stage of life have been proven, the only change that should be made during a menstrual cycle is with the type and intensity of the exercise. As Fiorella D’croz Brusatin indicates – Olympic triathlete, physical therapist and specialist in Therapeutic Physical Exercise – hormonal fluctuations in the body work differently depending on what part of the menstrual cycle the woman is in. “The recommendation is not to change the sport that the woman plays according to the phase she is in, the recommendation is to modify loads, duration and intensity,” D’croz states.
Week by week
While the symptoms of each woman’s periods are different, the most common ones include pain, changes in mood and even changes in the skin, which is why sports activities can be adapted from time to time. To do this, our physical therapist suggests factoring in the phase the woman is in and planning exercise accordingly.
- Week 1: When your period comes, your blood vessels dilate, your iron deposits decrease and there is less of flow a of oxygen, which is why short, light and recovery-type exercises are suggested.
- Week 2: Once you’re bleeding has finished, your mood improves and your estrogen levels balance out. Progesterone levels decrease, allowing for the load and intensity of the exercise to feel better. “During this phase, women are more explosive, stronger, and they are no longer bloated, which is when higher intensity workouts are recommended in order to take advantage of the hormonal environment to do this type of activity, D’croz states.
- Week 3: During these days, estrogen and estradiol levels begin to decrease, while progesterone levels rise, which is why it is still a good time for regular, but less intense workouts, as certain women may experience sadness. “You have to be very creative during this week with training so that it is fun, dynamic and not too intense, as with many women, it can be difficult to adjust their moods.”
- Week 4: It is common to feel discomfort during this stage, due to retaining liquids and to a feeling of heaviness. As our physical therapist explains, this is the least recommended week for doing high-intensity workouts.
Exercise, the best painkiller
In addition to its normal benefits, they exercise while on your menstrual period helps relieve pain and inflammation. According to sports medicine doctor James Madrid, different substances are released when doing physical activity including interleukin, which regulates pain and keeps inflammation under control. As Dr. Madrid explains, “When the endometrium detaches during the menstrual cycle and bleeding begins, inflammation can occur, which can be painful for some women. If the woman has a low percentage of muscle, and a high percentage of fat, inflammation will be greater. Doing frequent exercise helps increase muscle mass, making for less fat and less inflammation.”
Dr. Madrid also encourages women to drink more water when they do exercise and are on their period: 100 to 200 ml of water (about 1/2 to 1 cup) for every 15 minutes of activity. “After one hour, the recommendation is to drink beverages that rehydrate, as the loss of sodium is significant and it cannot be replaced easily through food,” Dr. Madrid states.
Pay attention to your diet
Due to the decreased levels of iron in the blood that results from the physiological loss of blood, specialists recommend increasing the consumption of foods that are rich in iron such as: meat, fish, green vegetables and beans. It is also recommended to not fall in the trap of following hypocaloric diets or altering your hormonal cycle. “These practices cause amenorrhea, which is the absence of menstruation, and can pose a health risk because with the absence of fatty acids, hormones become unbalanced, estrogen levels decrease, calcium is poorly absorbed and women become prone to premature osteoporosis.” As women, we have to eat a balanced diet that includes all the food groups according to our caloric needs,” states D’croz.
It the first and second day of bleeding are very painful, not doing exercise brings more benefits than doing a strong workout, as this can cause fatigue days later, and in some cases, mood swings.
Activate your muscles
The sports medicine doctor James Madrid recommends decreasing impact-based physical activity the days you are on your period. Instead, he suggests women do different types of stretching or balance exercises, or exercises to activate the stomach muscles. The following are a few alternatives:
- Do joint mobility exercises for your ankles, hips, upper extremities, fingers, hands, elbows, and middle and lower back. Activate each area 10 times to promote well-being.
- Do balancing exercises on a stable or unstable surface (such as with a bosu ball) in order to work your upper or lower limbs.
- Strengthen the muscles of the abdomen with activities like holding a plank pose, where the body is stationary on the floor and is held up by the toes and forearms. Bridge poses are also suggested, where your belly is up, and your body is supported by your hands and the bottom of your feet. From that position, you raise your pelvis up to form an arc.
- Stretch each muscle for 30 seconds in order to lower your heart rate, blood pressure and any soreness after you work out.
Related: A monthly cycle