Some people tell you to slow it right down, while others tell you to go for it. But what’s best when it comes to working out on your period and why? We turn to Jennis exercise physiologist, Dr Emma Ross, for the facts..
When it comes to the subject of periods (menstruation, time of the month, menses, the bleed whatever you call yours), as a society we simply don’t talk about them enough. Whether that’s periods and fitness; periods and lifestyle; or periods, well, period, accessible information about how we can work with our menstrual cycles is surprisingly hard to come by.
Keen to change all that, Doctor Emma Ross , Head of Physiology at Jennis, is on a mission to get us talking about our periods so we can all have healthier relationships with our menstrual cycles and bodies. “We've got to stop period silencing and we’ve got to open up conversations that are completely non judgemental about our cycles,” says Emma.
“It’s only through talking openly about something that shouldn’t be taboo that we can help women tap into what’s happening in their bodies and identify what’s best for them as individuals. Exercise has a really important impact on our period symptoms, so for me, that’s a great place to start," says Emma.
You can ease abdominal cramps with yoga flows that encourage blood flow and heat to that area
So, what’s happening inside your body when you’re on your period?
“In the week before your period, your levels of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen start to dip and you enter the low hormone or pre-menstrual phase, hence the term PMT (pre-menstrual tension).
“The reason we can feel low and emotionally fragile is because oestrogen affects serotonin (your happy hormone) and progesterone has an anti anxiety effect on the brain. When those hormones drop, it’s no wonder we can feel a bit out of sorts.
“At this point, there are something like 150 reported symptoms that we can experience, from anxiety and swollen boobs to bloating, headaches, tearfulness and tiredness,” says Emma.
“Once your womb lining starts to shed, you experience bleeding – aka the period phase – and a whole host of other symptoms can kick in, including cramping, headaches, mood swings, back ache and so on.
“It’s important to note that different people experience different symptoms and these symptoms can vary from month to month. Some people sail through their periods with no negative symptoms at all, while others get a whole cocktail of the less desirable ones.”
Is oestrogen (or the dip in oestrogen) to blame for the more negative symptoms?
It used to be that oestrogen got all the bad press when it came to those undesirable symptoms, but there’s actually a different culprit: a group of hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins (pronounced: pross-tah-gland-ins). Prostaglandins are both good and bad...
“We need them to have a healthy period," says Emma, "as it’s prostaglandins that trigger the muscles in your uterus to contract so that you expel the lining. But, too much prostaglandins and the contraction can be intense and you experience painful cramps.
“To add to that, if we produce too many prostaglandins, they can leak into nearby areas like the gut and you can experience lots of unpleasant side effects, such as cramping, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea.”
Can exercise reduce those period pain symptoms?
If you’re one of the 90% of people who suffer cramps and aches, there are a whole range of studies that show how exercise can ease the symptoms,” says Emma.
“Exercise can help to counteract those feelings through the production of endorphins – the feel-good hormone. These lift your mood, help you feel more positive, reduce anxiety and make you feel more in control.”
What style of exercise should you do on your period?
“There’s no right or wrong way to exercise on your period,” says Emma. “And the key is to tune into what your unique symptoms are telling you and how you are feeling. There are, however, certain styles of exercise that can help with particular symptoms.”
Best for aches and cramps
“The reason we experience abdominal cramps during our periods is because there's not enough blood flow and oxygen getting to the abdominal area. If this sounds like you, you can encourage blood flow and heat to your stomach though specific Jennis yoga flows,” says Emma. “You can find a selection of yoga circuits that may helping the Jennis app.
“If you suffer from back pain on your period, another good tip is to try yoga moves that will stretch out your back, such as the happy baby pose.”
If you don’t feel like leaving the sofa?
“If you really don’t feel like doing anything, we know that doing something is probably better than doing nothing, so try to do something small and analyse whether you feel better for it,” says Emma. “In this instance, I’d suggest getting out for a walk or doing a gentle Jennis stretch session to take advantage of the endorphin boost.”
What if you feel ready to go for it?
“If you’re someone who wants to do a more intense workout, that’s absolutely fine, too,” says Emma. “Some women experience a boost of energy as soon as their periods arrive, so do whatever you feel like, but listen to your body, and make sure you stay hydrated and well fuelled.”
Movement is good
“The big takeaway from all the work I have done over the years is that moving during your period can help and even if you feel pain or you feel tired, a small amount of activity will make you feel better both physically and emotionally
Giant caveat: If you are someone who experiences very high levels of pain on their periods and really can’t move, I would suggest you seek your GP’s advice.
Download Jennis on iPhone for abdominal-specific yoga flows that can help with aches and cramps