Far too many myths exist about a woman’s menstrual cycle, which may have you wondering what is true. Old wives tales tell women not to shower while on their period. Others will prohibit sexual activity because it is “unclean.” Still others swear a woman cannot get pregnant while menstruating. Fortunately, most of these myths are just that — myths.
When it comes to physical activity, just as many silly stories have remained alive and well for generations. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were certain societal beliefs and prevailing notions about women’s physical limitations and fragility. Some people propagated the idea that vigorous physical activity could be harmful to women’s health and even affect their ability to have children.
While most of those stories are outright false, others are simply exaggerated. Still today, many women think weightlifting will make them too bulky and extra muscular, and there’s debate surrounding the benefits of stretching. It is important to clear up the fog of half-truths so women can feel good about their fitness routines.
The truth is and has always been that physical activity is beneficial to your health. With little to no exceptions, if you exercise regularly, you will see positive results physically and mentally. This truth holds when it comes to a woman’s menstrual cycle. So, in concrete terms, how does physical activity affect periods? Here’s how:
1. It Can Lighten Your Flow
One of the biggest myths about physical activity while menstruating is that it will make your period heavier. No science to date has shown this to be true. In fact, women who exercise regularly generally have a lighter flow. Moderate daily exercise helps balance your hormones, which helps regulate your periods.
What women are likely experiencing when they report heavier periods is more blood flow while exercising. It makes sense that movement while menstruating would push more blood out of the uterus. This reality does not translate to a heavier period or more overall blood flow. You are simply pushing out more blood in those moments. Thus, while it may feel heavier, it most likely isn’t.
For women hoping to lighten their blood flow, regular exercise is an excellent option. General guidelines advise 20 minutes daily of cardiovascular movement and weight lifting twice weekly. Think walking, running, cycling, or swimming — anything that gets your heart rate up. Another option is low estrogen hormonal birth control, like Junel Fe. In many cases, the contraceptive can be affordable or even free, especially with online consultation and delivery services.
2. It Can Lessen the Severity of Period Symptoms
In addition to a lighter flow, physical activity can lessen the severity of period symptoms. Many women experience mood swings, cramping, nausea, breast tenderness, increased appetite, and fatigue around their period. Some women have such intense periods they can’t function like they normally would. These symptoms are all related to intense hormonal swings. Like with blood flow, balanced hormones can lessen those symptoms as well.
Women who exercise regularly often report less discomfort during menstruation. This is because exercise can reduce excess estrogen, which may alleviate symptoms like bloating and breast tenderness during menstruation. That said, it’s important to note becoming physically active is a lifestyle change. It can take time for exercise to have an effect as your current cycle, so give yourself a full two cycles to see a difference.
It is important to also note that you do not have to overdo it; you can take days off. For example, when you’re feeling fatigued during your period, it is okay to abstain from exercise that day. At the same time, gentle movement, like a walk, may lift the fatigue and make you feel better. It all comes down to doing what you can when you can and finding balance.
3. It Can Cause Amenorrhea
It is also critical to mention that overdoing it can have worsening effects. For all this talk of the benefits of physical activity on menstrual periods, too much can cause harm. It is generally a sign of good health for women to have a regular menstrual cycle. A lack thereof is typically an indication something is wrong.
Amenorrhea is the name doctors use when a woman misses her period, and it is common in female athletes. Many women in the military, the Olympics, and extreme fitness training experience amenorrhea. Long-term amenorrhea can lead to fertility problems, miscarriages, depression, anxiety, and sleep issues. As much as some women may not want their periods, they are a necessary part of life.
Still, there’s not too much to worry about for most women. It takes an extreme amount of exercise to cause amenorrhea. Going for a run, a walk, or a bike ride most days of the week is not going to stop your period from coming. You can engage in moderate physical activity and expect only benefits.
Physical activity is beneficial to women’s health on many levels. Moving more will not only make your periods easier to manage, but it will lessen discomfort throughout the month. You can expect better sleep, more energy, and an elevated mood. And as long as you’re not pushing yourself too hard, you can expect to continue to reap rewards.