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Fitness Articles  ›  Special Concerns

Exercise and Your Period

What You Need to Know to Go with the Flow

-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
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There are many benefits to exercising during your period. Working out can help:
  • Decrease the pain of cramps by releasing endorphins (the body's natural painkillers), increasing blood flow, and by loosening muscles in your lower abdomen, back, and thighs.
  • Rid your body of excess water so you aren’t bloated.
  • Improve and stabilize your mood, making you less anxious, angry, or depressed.
Of course, there are even more benefits to a regular exercise program. By exercising consistently, you may be able to achieve a lighter and shorter menstrual flow, a lower incidence of mood swings, and a stronger pelvic floor, which can better support your reproductive organs.

The following suggestions will help you develop a synergy between menstruation and exercise, so you can optimize your workouts, and your periods.
  • If you are just beginning an exercise program, and you suffer from cramps and other period-related issues, then start out slowly. Make sure you're listening to your body and not overdoing it.
  • Increase exercise around your period, which will improve oxygen circulation throughout the body.
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.
  • Avoid lots of salt (but use spices, especially spicy ones, liberally).
  • Avoid refined sugars and fried foods.
  • Avoid caffeine—it can make cramps worse.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Use heat to relieve cramps so you can get to the gym and stick to your workouts.
When to Talk to Your Health Care Provider
If you try all of the above suggestions and your periods are still painful, listen to your body. Take a few days off if you need to, or focus on non-pelvic body parts, like your biceps and triceps. If your period symptoms are so rough that they're hindering you from performing your daily activities, then you should see your women’s health care provider.

Some women are concerned that if they exercise too much, their periods will stop altogether. If your periods are not regular, or seem to be fading away, see your doctor. But keep in mind that if you're not a vigorously-training athlete, exercise is probably not the cause of your cycle irregularity. Exercise-induced amenorrhea usually occurs in athletes who train vigorously, like long-distance runners (more than 30 miles a week), but it's thought to be triggered by the loss of body fat (fat cells are essential for hormone production), rather than exercise itself. Assuming that your menstrual irregularities are due to exercise might mean that other treatable causes get ignored. Amenorrhea can be dangerous to your overall health and warrants a visit to your women’s health care provider, as it can cause premature osteoporosis, infertility, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

What I hoped to convey to those fourth-grade kids is what I hope to convey to you: exercising during your period will not result in physical damage, and it is safe and beneficial (unless your physician advises against it). And more importantly, that your body is amazing! If you respect your body by understanding it, listening to it, and caring for it, it will serve you well for a lifetime.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • Every other month I experience very low energy days during my period, so I take it easy, but I plan on doing some type of exercise anyway. - 5/12/2014 3:00:22 PM
  • lifetime avid exerciser, never experienced menstrual cramps or any troublesome period symptoms, 41 yrs old. - 11/16/2013 12:10:10 PM
  • Thanks for the tips but don't see that anymore. - 11/16/2013 9:58:37 AM
  • Exercise during my period is NOT an option. I have PCOS and get contractions along with the cramps, bleed extremely heavily, and clot. I have seen a doctor, yes, but that doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to be jumping up and running on the treadmill. What it does mean is that I'll be lying low and on narcotics to dull the pain, along with having nausea and the occasional migraine.

    If you're one of those "normal" women who get to exercise and leave the house during your period, lucky you. This advice does not apply to all, and a trip to the doctor isn't necessarily going to change your life. - 10/7/2013 11:11:26 AM
  • I've found that eating food high in Iron helps cravings, beets, tomatoes, spinach, etc. And light exercise: Long walk with music, or 10 reps of a few strength workouts. - 8/27/2013 11:07:44 PM
  • AUDENITAG
    I think this all depends on the person and where they are in life. I am 46 and in the Peri-menopause stage. Every month is different and exercise isn't always possible. And yep I talked to my Doctor and she advices that I do what I can when I can. If you wonder why I said exercise isn't always possible it's because I also get migraines. - 4/22/2013 5:48:02 PM
  • Had horrible cramps this morning so I popped some ibuprofen and did a moderate weight training dvd. I felt so much better afterwards and I'm still feeling pretty good several hours later! - 3/21/2013 3:10:00 PM
  • CIRANDELLA
    I noticed that when I went through menopause, my period turned into a question mark.

    Thanks...I'll be here all week! - 3/14/2013 6:59:52 PM
  • Caffeine will not make cramps worse. Midol and those types of menstral medications include caffeine for this exact reason.

    Otherwise great article. - 3/14/2013 12:41:23 PM
  • MISSY563
    Exercising during period days can get anyone exhausted very fast. Iron pills need to be taken by every woman.If staining is an issue,use period panties during exercise.Me and my friends use adira period panties.They do a good job. - 3/5/2013 1:17:09 AM
  • LITTLEMSMUFFET
    Please have your iron levels checked. Women who regularly have low iron levels tend to have heavier flow--not the other way around. If you get the iron level right-your flow (many times) will be lighter. - 2/22/2013 7:13:37 AM
  • my problem with my period was NOT just the fatigue but the fact my flow was so heavy just takin a step would result in me dropping golf ball clots(srry for the TMI) wearing depends and resting because all i could do was sleep
    i didnt want to exercise and fgot let go of many jobs for missing a week every month
    thank goddess my doctor and i are working for a solution...ultras
    ounds (external and internal) all have come back clear so birth control pills it is - 1/2/2013 11:27:32 PM
  • it's all nice, but for those of us who can barely walk despite having very understanding doctors and tried basically everything, exercise is just impossible. and having to take a full week of "off" time every 28 days makes it hard to exercise regularly.

    "Luckily" for me, I'm also suffering from nausea that week and it's stronger than the cravings. - 12/17/2012 2:41:23 PM
  • NKOUAMI26
    This has definitely been an interesting article to read. There are lot of things I learned. Thank you! - 10/13/2012 3:15:08 PM
  • Nicely written! I love that you included a jump rope in the puberty kit - too many girls reduce or stop exercising at that age and it is so vital to be active for life! - 6/23/2012 8:45:30 AM
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