When it comes to exercise, do you avoid it during your time of the month? Period pain has always been something that I’ve suffered with, and it definitely puts me off working out. I’m not alone, of course—80% of women have period pain. Mine always lasts the first two days of my period, and it usually consists of the following: pain in my lower stomach, my back, the tops of my legs, as well as being a bit shaky. My usual way of coping with that was to grab a hot water bottle, chuck a few Nurofen down my throat, and eat a lot of chocolate (hi, cliché). But when I was training for 10ks and then a half marathon, the curling-up-and-crying-at-adverts thing wasn’t really an option as it would mess up my training schedule.
However, I wasn’t even sure it was okay to exercise when I was on my period. Turns out it’s totally fine. Dr. Stacy Sims, an exercise physiologist at Stanford University, revealed that, thanks to the drop in certain hormones, it could make you feel more powerful when on your period. Ironic, since you probably don't feel like doing anything at all. If you want more proof that you can exercise while on your period, during the last Olympics, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke taboos and spoke about being on her period when she was competing. After she came fourth place in the heat, in her post-race interview, she revealed the reason she didn’t perform the best was because she had stomach cramps. But while the cramps held Yuanhui back, exercising on your period can have its benefits. From burning more calories (no, seriously) to reducing your pain (hallelujah), keep scrolling because we’ve found five of the best physical activities to do when you’re on.
Walking is incredible for many reasons. For starters, it’s free, and secondly, it’s been found to help with cardiovascular disorders and general health if you undertake just 30 minutes of walking every day. But how does this fit into aiding period pain? According to one study, a group undertaking aerobic exercise found that there was an improvement in PMS symptoms.
From a personal point of view, running has definitely helped ease my symptoms of PMS and reduced my pain every month. However, I have been mindful not to overdo it when I'm feeling a bit shaky. That said, there is evidence that points towards running having a positive effect on period pain. In one study that looked at women exercising on a treadmill "three times a week for up to 4 weeks followed by aerobic training at home for up to 4 weeks," it was discovered that these "exercises may be effective in reducing the pain associated with [menstrual cramping]." Anyone fancy jogging to a Zumba class, then?
Okay, we know the last thing you want to do is squeeze your bloated body into a swimming costume when it's your time of the month, but swimming is one of the most relaxing and gentle exercises you can do (when not competing on an Olympic level, of course).
Speaking to Self, Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine, said that "many women do find that when they are in cold water, they don't bleed very much." With "the cold clamping blood vessels down for a bit," she says, cramping and bleeding are likely to lessen a bit. Opt for a slimming black swimsuit and something functional if you're going to be powering through those lengths.
Of course, the home workout, whatever you choose to do, is ideal for anyone who can't face the world when they're feeling a bit emotional. Opt for something quick so you can get it done and dusted, fast.
A new review of studies has proven that practicing yoga can help with period pain. Published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the review looked at 15 studies, which clearly demonstrated a link between helping with the symptoms of PMS (including anxiety and headaches) and actual period pain.
However, these studies mainly looked at women practicing yoga on a daily or near-daily basis, so those two classes every week you do might need upping. If you're not sure how to start your practice, check out our guide to beginner’s yoga. If you’re not a beginner and know your tree from your child’s pose, the Yoga Journal has also published a comprehensive guide on different poses that help menstrual cramping.
Need a little more motivation? Why not invest in some new gym kit 404?
British Menopause Society. Period Pain. Women's Health Concern. 6 Apr. 2020.
El-lithy A, El-mazny A, Sabbour A, El-deeb A. Effect of aerobic exercise on premenstrual symptoms, haematological and hormonal parameters in young women. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2015;35(4):389-92. doi:10.3109/01443615.2014.960823
Kannan P, Claydon LS, Miller D, Chapple CM. Vigorous exercises in the management of primary dysmenorrhea: a feasibility study. Disabil Rehabil. 2015;37(15):1334-9. doi:10.3109/09638288.2014.962108
Hannum, Claire. Here's Why It's Totally Fine To Swim During Your Period. SELF. 8 Jan. 2018.
Oates J. The Effect of Yoga on Menstrual Disorders: A Systematic Review. J Altern Complement Med. 2017;23(6):407-417. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0363