PCOS and Exercise: How To Achieve Your Best With PCOS

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects the female reproductive system. PCOS is typically diagnosed in women who are of childbearing age and have menstrual irregularities, acne, weight gain or difficulty getting pregnant.

Exercise can help with PCOS as it can boost your metabolism and also regulate hormones. It can be said that exercise is one of the "best treatments" for every aspect of PCOS.

Why is exercise important for people with PCOS?

Exercise can help with PCOS in a number of ways as it:

  • helps to balance hormones
  • increases the metabolism
  • increases the chances of getting pregnant
  • can help regulate periods
  • helps with weight loss

The above points illustrate that exercise can be used as a treatment option for every symptom of PCOS.

How much daily exercise is needed?

When it comes to PCOS, daily activity is key in order to increase metabolism. However, each individual is different.

Here's an example that might be helpful:

Three times 15 minutes walk daily will be more helpful than doing 1-hour intense workout. The reason for this is that 1-hour intense workout would end up stressing the body out (which means it would create more chaos within the hormonal system and causing an hormone imbalance).

Another example would be:

Having a daily 30 minutes strength workout where your muscles are challenged creates a similar effect as three 15-minute walks a day. This is because the body will be using energy throughout the day in order to repair the muscles. A constant "calories in, calories out" effect is created, which is very important to get results when it comes to PCOS.

Creating balanced workouts is key in order to get positive results.

How to approach exercise when you have PCOS

1. Being consistent, focused and following a routine

Being consistent and focused is essential in order to get results with PCOS. If you want to create an exercise routine and be consistent, it is necessary to schedule the time to do so.

2. Listening to the body

Listening to your body is essential in order to make sure that you are doing the right thing. For example, if you are a beginner and the workout is too hard for your body, listen to it and do something easier.

3. It is all about muscle building

Increasing lean muscle mass will also guarantee metabolism increase. This means you are likely to start losing weight and feeling better because the lean body mass is 85% responsible for your metabolism. Well maintained metabolism will also help in regulating the hormone levels.

4. Beware: HIIT is a no-no!

A study has concluded that HIIT is effective in reducing the BMI in women with PCOS. However, more evidence is needed to prove the effect of HIIT on other variables.

As a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) specialist, my advice is not to use this approach because it can over-stimulate your hormones. Remember: hormonal balance is key when dealing with PCOS. Instead, I recommend resistance training.

Tips for getting started

Here are some tips that can help you get started if you have been diagnosed with PCOS:

  • Don't overthink it, it's easier to get started than most people think.
  • Talk to the right doctor, personal trainer and nutritionist. They can also help you with appropriate guidance.
  • Don't browse too many social media channels on the topic as it might confuse you rather than help you.
  • Start your fitness journey with simple steps: daily walking, gardening, taking the stairs and exploring resistance training. However, seek advice from your doctor or a personal trainer.
  • Check out my PCOS personal trainer page which can help with the basics and more

Best exercises for PCOS

In my personal experience, after working with many people who have been diagnosed with PCOS for a number of years, my advice is to combine daily movement with resistance training and yoga or pilates.

1. Resistance training

It will help you increase your metabolism, get fit and change your body composition.

2. Everyday activity: walking, swimming, gardening, etc

It will help you to keep your hormones in check by continuous stimulation of your metabolism.

3. Yoga and pilates

These are very good for your mind as well as your body.

Creating an effective workout plan

Below is just an example of a good exercise routine for someone diagnosed with PCOS (the combination is based on a weekly routine):

NOTE: This routine can vary amongst individuals.

MONDAY

Resistance training (30-60 min)

TUESDAY

Morning and evening walk (min. 20 minutes)

WEDNESDAY

Yoga OR Pilates OR any other mindful activity which requires movement (30 min)

THURSDAY

Resistance training (30-60 min)

FRIDAY

Walking or any other activity that fits with your lifestyle (swimming, tennis, jogging, etc)

WEEKEND

Make sure that you keep active throughout the weekend (i.e. don't overdo resting).

The above is a perfect PCOS training routine based on my experience. If you can't follow it try to adapt it to your particular lifestyle. Make sure to include weight lifting (resistance training), slow cardio, stretching and more calming activities like Yoga and Pilates.

There's no perfect rule book to follow and everyone is different, so you need to find out what works best for you.

About diet and PCOS

1. Weight Management

PCOS might make it difficult to lose weight, but you can help your body by eating a balanced diet and finding out what causes inflammation in your body. This can be done only by experimenting with food and food groups.

For example, you will not know if dairy or gluten has a negative impact on your body until you completely exclude them from your diet. This way you will effectively see if there are any notable changes to your body and general wellbeing.

This goes for other food groups as well, which could cause inflammation within your body:

  • Sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Gluten
  • Dairy
  • Soda
  • Processed meats
  • Margarine, etc.

2. Finding a healthy way to eat

Changing our eating habits is not an easy task and it takes commitment and self-discipline. As previously mentioned, you need to experiment with your diet in order to find out what works for you. My advice is to take it one step at a time.

  1. Don't try to exclude more than one food group at a time. If you are used to certain foods that need to be excluded from your diet entirely (i.e. junk food or sugar), the best way to go about it is by reducing it on a daily basis until the addiction is gone.
  2. Another way is to replace them with healthier and more natural choices. Don't forget that some meats and fish that have not been naturally sourced can contain antibiotics and steroids which are the biggest enemies for PCOS. Therefore, you need to think not only about the food group itself but you must also think about the quality of the food.

3. Helpful tips

  • Buy organic food from a trusted supplier.
  • Always check labels for any added chemicals, colourants, aromas, artificial sweeteners, etc.
  • Don't buy premade meals. Cook your meals yourself.
  • Reduce sugar, alcohol and other products (as these can naturally cause inflammation).

When to talk with your doctor and when to talk to a trainer

It is best to always consult a medical professional. PCOS is a serious condition that requires professional advice and there's no substitute for it.

In my opinion, talking with a personal trainer might give you an idea of how to get your PCOS under control.

A personal trainer can also give you advice on nutrition or, alternatively, a professional nutritionist will also give you helpful advice.

Summary

I hope this guide has helped you to understand PCOS and its relation to exercise. It is important to always remain positive. It is suggested that exercise can help with PCOS as it can boost the metabolism and hence help regulate hormones. Whether it's having PCOS or not, your health is the most important thing in life. Therefore, consult your doctor or a physical trainer for appropriate guidance.

Take action now.

References

  1. Conway G, Dewailly D, Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Escobar-Morreale HF, Franks S, Gambineri A, et al. The polycystic ovary syndrome: a position statement from the European Society of Endocrinology. European Journal of Endocrinology [Internet]. 2014 Oct 1 [cited 2022 Sep 9];171(4):P1–29.
  2. dos Santos IK, Ashe MC, Cobucci RN, Soares GM, de Oliveira Maranhão TM, Dantas PMS. The effect of exercise as an intervention for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine [Internet]. 2020 Apr [cited 2022 Sep 9];99(16):e19644. 
  3. Breyley-Smith A, Mousa A, Teede HJ, Johnson NA, Sabag A. The effect of exercise on cardiometabolic risk factors in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet]. 2022 Jan [cited 2022 Sep 9];19(3):1386.
  4. Khademi A, Alleyassin A, Aghahosseini M, Tabatabaeefar L, Amini M. The effect of exercise in pcos women who exercise regularly. Asian J Sports Med [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2022 Sep 9];1(1):35–40.
  5. Kogure GS, Lara LA da S, Ribeiro VB, Lopes IP, Mendes MC, Kodato S, et al. Distinct protocols of physical exercise may improve different aspects of well-being in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine [Internet]. 2021 Mar 23 [cited 2022 Sep 9];155982762110013.
  6. Shetty D, Chandrasekaran B, Singh AW, Oliverraj J. Exercise in polycystic ovarian syndrome: An evidence-based review. Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine [Internet]. 2017 Sep 1 [cited 2022 Sep 9];17(3):123.
  7. Santos IK dos, Nunes FAS de S, Queiros VS, Cobucci RN, Dantas PB, Soares GM, et al. Effect of high-intensity interval training on metabolic parameters in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2021 Jan 19 [cited 2022 Sep 9];16(1):e0245023.

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Justina Triasovaite

Professional Personal Trainer - Strength and Conditioning Coach
Professional personal trainer at The Gym Way in London, UK with over 10 years experience offering expertise, advise and one to one personal training. For more information on Justina visit Justina Training

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