It’s a given that your moods change and body craves certain foods around your period. And it begs the question – what other parts of your life can be improved by syncing up with Aunt Flo?
There’s a strong school of thought that adjusting your workouts based on what point you’re at in your cycle could impact your fitness. You’d be forgiven for thinking this all sounds a bit ‘out there’, but the benefits of tailoring your fitness training around your menstrual cycle are backed by science.
A 2016 Swedish study found that women benefited more from high-frequency resistance training in the first half of their cycle compared with the final two weeks. Participants’ muscle strength improved more during the first half, when there is more of the hormone oestrogen present in a woman’s body.
Further to this, a study published in the Archives of Gynaecology and Obstetrics found that hormone fluctuations during your cycle play a crucial role in your emotional status, appetite and thought processes.
Add to this the research that tells us that cycle hormones affect how you metabolise food and even how well you sleep, and thinking about your wellbeing alongside your menstrual cycle seems like a no-brainer.
Grainne Conefrey, co-creator of the FitrWoman app, agrees. “Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormones are constantly changing – this can affect a whole host of other physiological systems,” she says.
Tracking your periods can give you new insights into your body, health and wellbeing, and there are plenty of apps to help you do this (see box).
FitrWoman, for example, was one of the first apps to tailor exercise to users’ unique cycles to maximise their training. “Women are empowered to train on any given day of their cycle and have reassurance around how they might feel after each session,” Conefrey explains.
Hormone Horoscope Lite is an app that ‘predicts’ your emotional state based on where you are at in your monthly cycle.
By logging your periods, Clue helps you find patterns that you can use to keep your health and fitness in check, while Day After has added a diary and calendar to help you organise your daily life around your cycle.
Period tracking is also a feature of the Menopause View app, which provides information and tools to help ease the transition into menopause.
A new way to exercise
Whether you use a smartphone app or a trusty pen and paper, keeping a period ‘journal’ is the first step to synchronising your fitness or wellbeing to your cycle, says Annie Carter, founder of women-centred yoga and fitness studio Eve Studio, in Melbourne.
“Each day you jot down the date, which day of your cycle you’re on [day one being the first day of your period], and anything you notice about your energy levels, how your body feels, your mood and motivation. After a few months, you’ll start to see a pattern and this can help you to tailor your own exercise regimen.”
Carter says her number-one tip is to take it easy during your period. “Taking a few days each month to rest and recharge is literally life-changing for many women,” she says. “Many of us feel zapped of energy at this time but just keep on pushing through. If you do this for too long, you end up completely exhausted.”
On the flip side, a good time to work out is the week following menstruation. Carter says this is the time to do high-intensity exercise, dance up a storm, or head out for a run. “If we rested well during menstruation, we should come out firing during this phase and our motivation levels are at their highest, so we can really go for it,” she explains.
After ovulation, energy and enthusiasm can wane, so this is the time to start easing up on vigorous exercise. “I still like to include some strong workouts and dynamic yoga after ovulation, then gradually wind things back so that in the days leading up to my period, I’m just doing gentle yoga, maybe some Pilates and enjoying some walks outside.”
But what about women who are peri-menopausal, have an irregular cycle or don’t menstruate? Carter suggests following the lunar cycle can garner similar benefits. “Treat the new moon as your ‘menstrual phase’ and rest up for three to five days. As the moon waxes towards the full moon, you can crank up your exercise regimen and as it wanes, you can follow suit and wind down again.”
Carter has been taking this approach for two years and says the results have been significant. “I’ve noticed my energy levels are much more consistent and balanced, and I enjoy my exercise routine – and the variety it includes – much more,” she says.
“I feel much more connected to my body as I’ve learned to trust where she leads.”
Best tracking apps
Provides personalised exercise and nutritional advice based on changing hormone levels during your menstrual cycle.
A period and ovulation tracker that helps you discover patterns based on your unique cycle.
A period tracker, personal diary and calendar in one that allows you to monitor your mood and symptoms.
Designed for women facing menopause, it comes with helpful information and a range of tools, including period, symptom and medicine trackers.
Your fitness cycle
Do gentle yoga or Pilates, plus walking.
Rest as much as possible, or do light cardio or resistance exercises.
Do high-intensity workouts, such as interval training or dancing.
Do dynamic yoga or light cardio work.
This is what you’re cycle is trying to tell you, and these are the 6 foods you should eat to fight period pain.
Know someone who’ll love this dessert? Share this article with them!