9 Best Workouts to Do When You Have Your Period
Lift the curse
Follow along with Kelsey Wells to get your heart rate up—and watch your rear look better than ever.
Walking, running, the elliptical trainer, and other forms of cardio will help raise endorphins and get you out of the period funk, says Amanda Young, group fitness instructor and certified personal trainer based in New York City. "Endorphins also serve to reduce cramps and headaches," she says. Cardiovascular exercise is good for increasing blood flow throughout your body and moving it away from where you're feeling discomfort or pain, says Mary Rosser, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Montefiore Medical Center in Larchmont, NY. "If you're just starting out, keep in mind that the day you have your worst cramps is not the day to start a new program."
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Reduce stress before hopping on a plane.
Moving to the music goes a long way toward feeling better overall, says Young. "Taking a Zumba class or even turning on the music in your own home and dancing can liven up a dreary day," she says. Big free flowing movements increase flexibility of your joints and "can fight off that period stiffness." Dancing does double duty by lifting your mood and helping burn calories—an hour of Zumba can burn up to 600 of them. "Cardiovascular exercise can also help diminish cravings," says Dr. Rosser.
Your estrogen levels are at their lowest during your period, says Young, "which could make you feel more powerful when lifting weights. Just remember not to lift too heavy a weight as it puts pressure on your core and may worsen cramps." If you experience fatigue during your period, cut back on the resistance a bit to avoid injury and focus on using perfect form.
Forward bends, twists, and many other poses help stimulate the digestive tract and help keep you regular.
A relaxing dip in the pool can be just what you need to ease cramps and get you moving. Swimming increases circulation and blood flow to the body, reducing cramps, says Young. "It is gentle on stiff joints and takes pressure off of the lower back." However, if your cramps are so severe and have you doubled over, unable to breathe, you might want to skip swimming.
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Taking deep breaths, whether on their own, during meditation, or in combination with a practice such as Pilates or yoga may help ease menstrual cramp pain, says Dr. Rosser. Breathing deeply relaxes your whole body, including the muscles in the uterus, which contract with the menses to expel blood. Since this contraction is also behind painful cramping, deep breathing can help alleviate these cramps, Dr. Rosser adds.
Yes, doctor's orders. While it's not technically an exercise, sex counts as an activity that can help ease menstrual pain and cramps, says Dr. Rosser. "When you have an orgasm your pituitary gland releases a chemical called oxytocin, which causes contraction of the uterine muscle," she explains. "This helps relieve cramps and gets blood flowing to the area." Orgasms also release endorphins, natural painkillers, and mood boosters that help with irritability and even mild depression associated with your period.
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Many yoga poses stretch out the lower back and the muscles around your pelvis that cramp up during your flow, says Dr. Rosser. The deep breathing associated with yoga also helps relax muscles. Regular yoga practice (35 to 40 minutes a day, six times per week) decreased anxiety, anger, and depression and increased overall wellbeing in women during their menstrual cycle in one small 2013 study.
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What not to do?
Unless you have cramps that double you over, most exercises help ease symptoms, not worsen them. Yet, studies show that there may be an increased risk of ACL (knee ligaments) tears during certain phases of the menstrual cycle, says David Geier, MD, orthopedic surgeon in South Carolina. "Generally activities that involve landing from a jump or planting your foot and turning your body quickly could lead to an ACL tear, so those activities might be ones you would refrain from temporarily." Geier notes that it's only a small increase in risk and that if you enjoy these types of activities, most orthopedic surgeons would not discourage them.
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