Period cramps. Those two words make me shudder in fear. Many people who have periods have dealt with debilitating cramps — I’m talking about call out sick from work, lay in bed in the fetal position with a heating pad wrapped around your abdomen all day bad. Sometimes, it feels like the only way to make the pain go away is to wait out your period, but relief may come in a really unexpected place — the gym. That’s right. Exercise can actually help with period cramps.
In fact, exercising while on your period might be the best time to do it, according to experts. "Research also shows we have a higher pain tolerance and faster recovery period" during our periods, fitness expert Alexandra Bonetti told Bustle over email in 2015. "So even though you might feel like staying home and putting your feet up, this is actually a great time to push yourself and sweat it out."
I know this sounds really counter-intuitive. Exercise can be strenuous, so why put your body through that when you’re already in pain? The type of exercises that will lessen period pain aren’t of the body-building variety. Low-impact aerobic exercises like walking or swimming are a good start because they increase blood circulation Exercises that focus on your pelvis like pelvic tilts and yoga can also give you some relief from painful cramps.
Some folks worry that exercise will increase their period flow, but that’s not the case. Blood isn’t falling out of your uterus; it’s being pushed out by contractions, so your flow will be about the same whether you’re laying in bed, walking on a trail, or if you’re in the downward dog position.
Ideally, you should be getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each day regardless of what time of the month it is, but if period cramps make that feel impossible, try breaking that up into three sets of 10 minutes. You’ll still get the same benefits without over-exerting yourself.
Sandy Knauf, a certified Family Nurse Practitioner, told U by Kotex, “Physical activity in the form of aerobic exercise is widely accepted to help with many of the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), including cramping. We know that it helps with water retention, helps your brain feel good by decreasing depression and anxiety symptoms, and even helps you feel better physically. Be sure to make it a lifestyle for you most days of the month, not just during your period!”
Knauf mentioned depression symptoms. A lot of folks experiences changes in mood right before and during their period, and that's no different for people with depression. Studies show that exercise can help combat depression, so if you notice your depression getting worse around your period, exercise can help keep those negative emotions at bay by releasing endorphins your brain and body need to stay happy.
Exercising while on your period can also give you a much-needed boost of energy. It’s natural to just want to lay in bed and watch Netflix all day as your uterus contracts, but that leads to fatigue that’s often hard to shake off even after your period is over. It might be hard to get started, but once you get into a rhythm, you’ll feel more awake and alert. You might even forget you were in pain in the first place. Wouldn’t that be nice? You still need sleep, so don’t neglect resting while on your period. It’s all about balance.
So listen to your body because sometimes period cramps are really calls for you to get your blood circulating. And if nothing seems to help your period cramps, talk to a medical professional about potential therapies to help.