One of the most natural and at the same time most frustrating phases in a woman's life is menstruation. There are days when you dread it and can't wait for it to end because, for some, it comes with excruciating cramps and emotional distress. Menstrual pain is something that most women experience during menstruation. Research shows that about 80 per cent or more of women experience menstrual cramps during their monthly period.¹
The good news is that periods can be bearable, especially if you do the right exercises to increase blood flow and relieve menstrual cramps altogether. Exercise is all great for women's health in general, and it works wonders during your period.
In this article, we will present some examples of exercises and other alternatives that might be helpful during your period.
The menstrual cycle lasts an average of 28 days in total and consists of 4 phases, these include;
- Menstruation (days 1-5)
- The follicular phase begins on the first day of menstruation and ends on the day of ovulation (days 1-14)
- Ovulation is the release of an egg from the ovaries (day 14)
- Luteal phase (days 14-28)
Menstruation, also called a period, is the shedding of the uterus lining, which causes bleeding. The blood then comes out of a woman's vagina. It happens monthly. Menstruation falls on the first day of bleeding in the menstrual cycle.
Why Does Menstruation Occur
Menstruation occur throughout the reproductive phase of a woman's life. During each menstrual cycle, the endometrium (the inner lining of the womb) itself receives and nourishes the foetus.
Oestrogen and progesterone hormone levels rise during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which helps thicken the walls of the endometrium. If fertilisation does not occur at this stage, oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to fall and the walls of the uterine lining begin to shed, leading to bleeding during menstruation. Some refer to this occurring during the menstrual cycle as “Weeping of the disappointed uterus”. In essence, the “weeping” is the menstrual flow.
Menstruation is accompanied by various symptoms, which can be of a physical and/ or psychological nature. Low levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone can contribute to certain menstrual symptoms.
Figure: Symptoms associated with Menstruation
Created by Aastha Malik
The symptoms shown above range in severity from mild to very severe.
In addition, these symptoms appear a few days (during the end of the luteal phase) before the start of the period, this is known as the PMS symptom.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a variety of physical and physiological changes that occur in a woman a few days before her menstrual period. Examples of PMS symptoms include irritability, cramps, and other menstrual-related symptoms.
Menstruation and Exercise
Research has shown that working out increases the release of several neurotransmitters, including natural endorphins (natural pain relievers), dopamine, and others, which are helpful during menstruation to reduce pains. ²
Can exercise help with menstruation?
Yes, exercise is very helpful during menstruation as it helps regulate the flow of the period and the menstrual cycle, resulting in less period pain. It is best to wear comfortable menstrual products such as menstrual cups, sanitary pads or tampons during a workout to provide a comfortable workout experience.
Exercises that help with menstruation
In general, physical activity is beneficial in relieving PMS symptoms and menstrual pain. Certain forms of exercise offer more benefits during menstruation. Workouts do not have to be strenuous to be effective. Some of these exercises include;
- Yoga: Some studies have shown that yoga is more effective in relieving menstrual pain compared to other forms of exercise.² Yoga reduces the stress-related effects of menstruation, making women with menstrual cramps feel good. Some yoga poses that help PMS and period pain include:
- Lotus pose
- Childs pose
- Supine spinal twists
- Supine pigeon pose
- Legs on the wall
- Happy baby pose
Supine spinal twist
Supine pigeon pose
Happy baby pose
- Walking: as simple as it sounds, walking is a great option during menstruation. This light aerobic exercise increases the circulation of blood and improves your overall mood.
- Dancing is a fun physical activity that lifts your spirits and boosts your mood. Turn on your music and dance to it.
- Stretching: this is a great way to relieve PMS symptoms. If you are not up for intense exercise, stretching is an option to relax your muscles.
- Swimming: It is perfectly safe to swim during your period. Your body will feel relaxed while you are immersed in the water. Using a tampon while swimming is advised because regular sanitary pads would get soaked by water.
- Strength training: Lifting light weights is a great workout during menstruation.
Benefits of exercise during your period
- Working out during periods may prove beneficial in regulating irregular periods.
- Exercise promotes the release of happy hormones known as endorphins. These hormones help relieve stress and act as natural pain relievers. Working out during menstruation helps increase levels of these hormones, which in turn reduces menstrual cramps.
- Working out helps relieve menstrual cramps and symptoms associated with PMS.
- Physical activity during menstruation is also great for enhancing mood and fighting mood swings.
- Increased blood flow during exercise helps reduce menstrual pain.
- Working out during menstruation also serves as diversion therapy.
Is there any exercise you should avoid?
Exercising during your period should reduce stress rather than increase your overall stress levels and pain. It is best to avoid strenuous and prolonged exercises. Stick to regular exercise instead of intense exercise. Most importantly, listen to your body.
Other Methods of Helping Menstruation
Besides exercise, there are other useful ways to relieve menstrual pain.
Here are some helpful suggestions.
- Apply heat: This can be done by taking a warm bath or using a hot water patch.
- Modify your diet: Eat lots of fruit and vegetables and be sure to avoid candy, alcohol and spicy foods while menstruating.
- Take a pain reliever.
- Drink lots of water while you are on your period.
- Drink warm fluids during your period. This is helpful for menstrual cramps and aids blood flow.
In summary, working out during your period is a helpful way to relieve menstrual-related symptoms and PMS. Being physically active during your menstrual period also serves as diversion therapy. Remember to listen to how your body feels before exercising during your period.
- Grandi G, Ferrari, Xholli, Cannoletta M, Palma, Romani C, Volpe, Cagnacci A. Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea? Journal of Pain Research 2012; 5: 169–174. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S30602
- Vaghela N, Mishra D, Sheth M, and Bharat Dan V. To compare the effects of aerobic exercise and yoga on Premenstrual syndrome. Journal of Education and Health Promotion 2019; 8: 199. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6852652/
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