During that time of the month, it can sound far more appealing to curl up with a heating pad on the couch than head to the gym or a yoga class. But, whether it’s good or bad news for you to hear, exercise is actually one of the things your body needs the most during this time, says Shayna Schmidt, certified personal trainer and co-founder of Livekick.com.
As it turns out, working out when you're on your period can deliver tons of benefits to your body and mind. “Working out can help alleviate many of the negative side effects of your period, such as bloating, mood swings, cramping, and other PMS symptoms,” Schmidt says. Keep reading to find out how.
Reasons to Work Out on Your Period
If you tend to feel grumpy or anxious in the days leading up to your cycle, working out can improve your mood in a major way. This is because exercise releases endorphins, explains Heather Bartos, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN.
Endorphins have several positive effects on your mood. First, they can help reduce the perception of pain—a huge plus when you’re dealing with cramps. They also help trigger a positive and energizing feeling in your body (think about a so-called runner’s high). As a result, the mood swings and PMS symptoms associated with your period will greatly decrease.
Working out can help alleviate many of the negative side effects of your period.
Exercise also helps reduce feelings of anxiety and depression that can arise before our period, Bartos notes. Research shows vigorous exercise produces two common neurotransmitters, glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are responsible for helping to calm our nervous systems.
Dealing with bloating and/or constipation prior to your cycle? Exercise comes in handy here as well, Bartos notes. Moving your body helps the lymph (extra fluid in your body) circulate and reduce bloating. Drinking plenty of water post-workout can also keep things moving along in your digestive tract, Bartos says.
Workouts to Do During Your Period
As with exercise in general, the best exercise to do on your period is the one you enjoy the most.
“The truth is, women are just as strong and capable on their periods as they are every other week of the month,” Schmidt says. “Women run marathons, perform in the Olympics, and compete in sports while on their periods all the time. In fact, one study did find that performance was enhanced in the days leading up to a menstrual cycle for a small group of women, although more research is needed.
No need to go all out, though: A solid 20 to 30 minute sweat session, or even a brisk walk, can be exactly what it takes to help you feel better, says Mimosa Gordon, a Pilates instructor and fitness expert.
Yoga in particular is a good bet when you’re on your period, because the poses help stretch out the tightness in your muscles to relieve cramping, Schmidt explains.
A few yoga poses to try:
- Child’s pose can help with any back pain you may be feeling, and it also concentrates blood flow to your abdomen, leaving your internal organs feeling refreshed.
- A reclining twist stretches your back and gives a nice stretch to the legs and glutes, while butterfly can be a great way to stretch your inner thighs.
- Forward lunges will stretch out the legs and supply them with fresh oxygen and blood as well, helping to reduce cramping.
- Downward dog is another helpful pose. Since your head is below your heart, it sends a fresh blood flow to your head, which can aid in relieving headaches.
- Legs up the wall pose at the end of the day can also help with circulation and stress.
Workouts to Avoid During Your Period
“If you love a particular workout and have previously enjoyed it safely, there is no compelling reason or evidence to avoid it during your period,” Gordon says. However, if you start to feel excessively tired, she suggests lowering the intensity.
Additionally, if you suffer from nausea or dizziness during a heavy flow, opt for some yoga sessions, go hiking instead of running, or try a chill breaststroke instead of a freestyle swim, Schmidt suggests. And just be sure to listen to your body, Bartos says. “If you feel overly exerted or dizzy, stop.”
One final note: If you are doing an activity that requires agility, lateral movements and quick stops or jumping, be really mindful of your landings, Gordon says. Some research has found that women may be at a higher risk of injuries, especially ACL tears in the knee, due to fluctuating estrogen levels as they approach ovulation. As Gordon notes, “No need to ditch the game; just mind your directional changes.”