Staying active is a healthy habit. In fact, healthcare experts note physical activity as one of the most important things you can do for your health.
Each time you walk, do yoga, or strength train, you work toward a better quality of life and add to your holistic wellness. However, you may question engaging in physical activity at times during your menstrual cycle. Many wonder, should I exercise during my period?
Your menstrual cycle can indeed affect your level of physical activity. Read to find ways to optimize your fitness and nutrition to stay moving throughout your cycle.
Should I Exercise During My Period?
Understand that exercising at any time during your cycle is acceptable and encouraged! If you’re regularly active and feeling well, your routine doesn’t have to change. Most healthcare experts agree that exercising during your period has numerous benefits.
However, some women may overlook the effects of the physiological changes that the different phases of their cycle can have on their physical prowess.
You may wonder why sometimes you absolutely kill that HITT workout while at other times you feel like you’re a beginner. Maybe you’ve been shaving minutes off your mile, and then one day, you feel like you took three steps back.
It doesn’t mean you’re not as fit as you thought. It also doesn’t mean any losses in your fitness journey. There may be a completely normal bodily process at play.
Take a look at how your period may be the culprit.
Let’s Talk Phases
Your period consists of four distinct phases.
Each phase of a menstrual cycle brings about specific and notable physiological changes. These changes are driven by fluctuations in hormones.
Hormones regulate normal functioning and processes in your body, which means they are necessary and powerful. When hormones change, as they constantly do during your cycle, you are bound to feel the effects.
Tracking to Target Success
Knowing when your body reaches each phase is an essential step in aligning your workout regimen and nutrition to the stages of your cycle.
The overall average cycle lasts approximately 28-29 days. Although cycles vary greatly depending on many characteristics of the individual, here are the average lengths of each phase of the menstrual cycle:
- Menstrual phase 3-7 days
- Follicle phase 16 days; overlaps menstrual and ovulation phases
- Ovulation phase lasts 24 hours, usually around day 14 of the cycle.
- Luteal phase 14 days
There are also period tracker tools you can use to help you remember and record.
Optimal Exercise for Each Phase
Because the hormone fluctuations can cause changes in energy and mood, you can expect that on some days, you’ll feel like tackling that high-intensity full body kickboxing workout, but on other days walking or yoga are more your vibe. That makes sense, and you can make it work!
During this phase, your uterus is shedding its lining. The first day your flow begins is considered the first day of your cycle.
The hormones progesterone and estrogen are lower during this time resulting in fatigue. The gentle movements of yoga and walking are prime choices for the menstrual phase.
This phase gets its name because each egg begins its life inside an individual follicle. During this phase, hormones stimulate the follicle to mature into an egg. This phase actually starts in tandem with the menstrual phase, and they overlap by a few days.
The estrogen boost mid-way through this phase can make for a boost in energy! Once your flow has stopped, this is a great time to ramp up the intensity. If you enjoy HIIT workouts or heavy lifting, you may feel at peak performance. It’s also a great time to try new high-energy challenges like boxing or Zumba.
At this point in your cycle, it’s time for the egg to be released and travel down the fallopian tubes. This short window of time is when pregnancy is possible.
You’ll still be enjoying that estrogen high from the follicular phase as ovulation begins. Continue to take advantage of the energy and carry on with your high-intensity training.
The luteal phase is when the lining of your uterus thickens and prepares for the implantation of a fertilized egg. Increases in progesterone and estrogen are responsible for promoting the thickening of the lining. If a fertilized egg is not implanted, your cycle will continue and lead back to the shedding of the lining for day one of the menstrual phase.
This phase marks a peak in progesterone, affecting some by making them drowsy. It can also contribute to an increased feeling of warmth. For these reasons, strenuous activity may feel more difficult. Yoga and pilates are exceptional options for luteal phase fitness.
Don’t feel guilty if you have to take it easy during any one phase. You can maintain your fitness goals while respecting your body’s needs during your cycle.
On the same note, don’t hold yourself back if you feel well and energized. The changes and hormone fluctuations during each phase are important to acknowledge, but they don’t mean you have to change your routine if you don’t feel any effects.
Every body is affected differently, and each cycle could have its own characteristics from month to month. The best advice is to be well-informed and be in tune with your body. That will allow you to make the best workout decisions.
Making the Most of Meals
Your period can be the best reason to fill your body with healthy, nutrient-rich foods. These suggestions are appropriate for improving overall health in general, but they each have benefits for fueling your cycle.
A healthy blood sugar supports overall hormone health for the entirety of your cycle. Always try to balance fiber and protein and be mindful of what carbs and sugars you put in your body.
Additionally, staying hydrated is vital. Water enhances and supports so many of our body’s functions. You’ll feel better in many respects and be doing your overall health and your cycle a favor.
As far as specific foods to eat, some nutrients can be beneficial during each menstrual cycle phase. Here’s a rundown of some items to pick for your plate.
Menstrual phase-what you need:
- Healthy fats
Some suggestions on how to get it:
- Fish, chicken, beef, eggs, tofu
- Pumpkin seeds
- Dark chocolate
Also, reach for warm, comforting choices to help soothe cramps like hot peppermint or ginger tea. Peppermint can help decrease fatigue, and ginger has anti-nausea and bloating properties.
Follicular phase-what you need:
- Complex carbs
- Vitamin C
Suggestions on how to get it:
- Bell peppers
- Red meat
Since you’ve got the green light to increase the intensity of your workouts, make choices that will support muscle growth and compensate for extra calorie burn.
Ovulation-what you need:
- Anti-inflammatory foods
- Vitamin B6
Suggestions for how to get it:
- Ricotta cheese
- Chicken liver
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens
If pregnancy is your goal, a good source of folate is also a good idea. In addition to the foods above, try legumes, asparagus, and beets.
Luteal phase-what you need:
- Foods that deter water retention
- Foods that boost serotonin
Suggestions for how to get it:
This is the time most commonly known as PMS. The days leading up to the start of your flow can include bloating, mood swings, and insomnia. Do your best to reduce salt, caffeine, and alcohol, as these foods can exacerbate those negative elements.
When to Rest
In addition to physical activity and healthy eating habits, a good night’s rest is also key to optimal overall health. It’s another way to balance hormones to enjoy a calm period.
You don’t have to rest at any particular time during any one phase, but you should ensure your overall sleep habits are healthy and consistent.
Maintain a routine for getting to bed. Most adults need 6-8 hours of sleep to feel rested, so ensure you are leaving that time for yourself. Create a peaceful atmosphere free from technology and noise in your sleeping space. When you do retire, get comfortable. Most find that sleeping on the side or in a fetal position is optimal for relaxing abdominal muscles in the event of cramps.
Keep Moving and Making Healthy Choices
Enjoy exercising and treating yourself to proper nutrition as your body moves through its cycle. At Red Moon, we encourage a holistic wellness routine; exercising and eating smart are great building blocks toward achieving holistic health.
We’d love to hear your menstrual movement and nutrition routine! What fuels you during the various phases? Are there exercises you prefer or would recommend at different times? Connect with us and share how you stay moving during your cycle.
Alison Ferrell is the co-founder of Red Moon and has a passion for helping others discover peace and comfort amidst reproductive health issues. Alison draws on her deep empathy for those who’ve suffered from Endometriosis and reproductive illnesses as inspiration for her business. You can connect with her on Linkedin.