The science behind exercising better on your period
There’s a lot of information out there about exercise and periods, including a fair share of menstrual myths.
From classics including, ‘You can’t go swimming on your period,’ (False: wear a tampon and you’ll be absolutely fine), to the equally misguided, ‘Exercise will make your cramps worse’ (Wrong again: it actually has the opposite effect, helping to ease the pain).
Many of these have endured from a time when talking about periods was taboo at worst and a bit of a mystery at best. Thankfully we’ve come a long way. And now there’s nothing we want to do that we can’t, just because of a little bit of blood, right?
Right. But understanding the four phases of your menstrual cycle and the science behind the exercise you choose to do each month can definitely help to make life a little more comfortable. And it can also make a big difference to how effectively you train.
Georgie Bruinvels, an MPhil/PhD student at UCL and a visiting Research Associate at St Mary’s University, London, UK, has been studying the effects of the menstrual cycle on the performance of female athletes. She’s an athlete herself. A cross country runner, Georgie hit the headlines in 2015 when she won the Manchester Marathon on her first ever run.
Her research has uncovered some interesting results. “There’s been a frustrating lack of research until now,” says Georgie, “but through these studies, we’ve had the chance to look closely at how low iron levels can impact on women’s athletic performance and training.”
Our iron levels change throughout our menstrual cycle. So are female athletes noticing a difference in performance, based on where they are in their own cycles?
“Definitely. Being an athlete myself, I’ve seen first-hand how sportswomen at all levels are affected by it. More than half the female athletes surveyed in our initial research (700) feel that their training and performance are affected by their cycle.”
Many athletes dread competing on particular days of their menstrual cycle, fearing it will affect their performance. And some days can be equally as challenging for those of us who simply enjoy our regular exercise, too.
“What we’re doing with our research is gaining a better understanding of the issues, what happens to the body during the menstrual cycle, the treatments available, and the things women can do to help restore both their iron and performance levels,” says Georgie.
And that’s good news not just for the world’s top female athletes, but for you too. Georgie’s discovered there are plenty of things you can do to carry on exercising and training happily and effectively throughout the month. With some stages of your menstrual cycle actually adding power to your performance – who knew?
All of us will have some days during our menstrual cycle where we’ll feel like staying in bed with a hot water bottle. But Georgie’s research has confirmed that exercising at every stage of your period is not only safe, it’s really good for helping with those aches and pains too.