It’s a monthly date you never forget — that feeling down under you can’t ignore: your period. While every woman’s cycle and premenstrual symptoms vary, there are a few helpful ways to improve your every-28-to-30-day release. You could, sure, veg out in front of your computer and cue up HBO Go and get some much-needed R&R, but certain exercises can also benefit your aches, pains, mood swings, cramps and cravings. Yawning at the very idea of pulling on your workout clothes and hitting the gym? We feel you, but as Dr. Jennifer Stagg explains, even just a little movement can make a difference.
“Women who experience painful cramps with their period can get significant benefit from an exercise program that includes abdominal and pelvic stretches regularly for a total of 15 minutes three times per week," she explains. A study out of Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences published this year compared this type of stretching program to taking an anti-inflammatory drug for cramps and the women who stretched had better results by their second menstrual cycle than the women who took the drug.
Here are some recommendations from fitness instructors and medical professionals on the best ways to work up a sweat during that time of the month.
Believe it or not, when you’re about to get your period or in the first few days of it, research by menstrual cycle researcher Katharina Dalton, which was published in the British Medical Journal, and a study published in the journal Public Health shows you’re more prone to injury. This is because typically, women feel more lethargic and tired as they prepare to have their cycle, causing them to be less alert and zeroed-in on their surroundings. That’s why Dr. Christopher Hollingsworth suggests a low-impact type of fitness routine to avoid possible accidents. One suggestion is indoor or outdoor cycling, which will rev up your heart rate and get much-needed oxygen pumping through your body without being stressful on your limbs. You also have the option of a low- to moderate-intensity level, either of which will relieve stress, he says.
Especially if you tend to lean a tad higher on the cranky side when you’re menstruating, you might need an extra dose of Zen with that glass (or, ahem, bottle) of wine you’re downing pre-period. This type of exercise is another pick-your-own-difficulty-level according to Hollingsworth. The good news is that even a candlelit slow-flow class can reduce your risk of injury and it limits the demands that a more calorie-burning workout might put on your body. Even if you’re not exactly feeling it, per se, even a quick sequence in the a.m. might lift your spirits so you don’t bite off that kind barista’s head when she gets your order wrong.
If your idea of a riveting night in during your period (or, let’s be real, any time of the month) is a bubble bath for one complete with your latest Kindle read and some bubbly, use that same healing power of water to work out. Hollingsworth explains this low-impact type of fitness routine is gentle on your limbs, while still providing a full-body excursion. After doing a few laps, you can also allow the heat of your body and the coolness of the water to soothe your cramps by floating gently for a cool-down.
If you do have more energy, say toward the tail end of your cycle, Jessica Diaz, a barre instructor, explains any type of cardio will help circulate your blood, amp up your mood and help balance your hormones. Just make sure you keep the output moderate and select an activity you truly enjoy.
“Whether that is Zumba, running, biking, boxing, dance — something that gets blood flowing and heart beat up,” she says. “Not only is it great for improving cardiovascular health, cardio can also combat feelings of sluggishness by pumping you up with feel-good endorphins. Endorphins are natural chemicals released by the brain and can reduce feelings of stress and the sense of the severity of pain caused by cramps.”
Not exactly intrigued by the idea of sweating it out on your heaviest second day? Luckily, Hollingsworth says to receive the same benefits, you don’t have to run. Instead, you can just, well, step. “During a period is the ideal time to do lengthy low-intensity exercise. Going on a five-mile walk is the perfect type of exercise to do while menstruating,” he says.
You’re definitely not expected to bust out your most impressive dance move during your period, but you can at least do a little jiggle to help relieve the lower back pain that menstruating sometimes causes, says Diaz. It also doesn’t require much effort on your part, as she explains you simply need to turn up your favorite get-in-the-groove jam and lie on your back.
From this comfy position, rest your palms by your side and bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor with your hips width-distance apart. Then engage your pelvic floor muscles by lifting your glutes off the mat in a low bridge followed by softening and lowering the base of your rib cage toward the mat. Now comes the dancing part: Tilt your pelvis up so you eventually lift your lower back and hips a few inches off the mat, and start grooving to the beat.
“Back dancing is one of my favorite barre exercise and is perfect for releasing pressure on the lower back while at the same time letting you fit in some bonus booty sculpting and abdominal strengthening,” Diaz says.
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