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What Happens To Your Body When You Work Out On Your Period?

What are the *actual* benefits of exercise when it's that time of the month?
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Let's just all agree: Everything feels like more of a struggle when you're on your period. Even every day tasks like cleaning, doing the dishes, and working out seem much harder to accomplish. All you want to do is crawl under a nice blanket with a bowl of chips or a box of cupcakes and watch Netflix all day. But not everyone has the luxury to do this—most of us have to go about our day. And if you feel like skipping that workout while you're on your cycle, we urge you to reconsider.

Exercising is almost always a good idea—the physical and mental benefits of exercise don't just go away when it's that time of the month, lol. When you can't go as hard as you normally would during your workout routine, because hey, your body is going through it, even the lightest moves can make you feel better than if you stayed sedentary. Here's what you need to know. 

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How to feel better on your period
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Working out on period: Your hormones fluctuate.

Did you know that during menstruation, your hormones fluctuate and actually go through different stages? That's why some workouts feel extra hard, depending on what day you're at on your menstrual cycle. We already know that menstruation isn't the same for everybody; but the average number of a full cycle is around 28 days. Two major hormones—estrogen and progesterone—fluctuate during this time. OBGYN Dr. Carolyn DeLucia tells INSIDER, "The first half of the month is estrogen dominant and the second half is progesterone dominant, and the effects of these hormones can influence our energy levels."

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In the middle of the cycle, serotonin aka the happy hormone that makes those unbearable workouts worth it, is pretty low. That's why we can sometimes be less energetic and perhaps even more emotional. But according to gynecologist Dr. Prudence Hall, this is also the time when estrogen is high, which increases flexibility and is perfect for muscle-building. Both doctors agree that when you're on the last stage of your cycle (your period is on its way), that's when your energy level is at its lowest. When you get your period, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. People experienced this for as little as one to two days; but it's also possible for it to last a week. 

Working out on period: What are the actual benefits of exercise during your cycle?

The most important thing you have to remember is to listen to your body first. It'll usually tell you what it can handle at any given time. If you have a hormonal imbalance, for example, intense workouts might make the problem worse.

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But as previously mentioned, exercise has a lot of benefits, especially during menstruation. Here are a few:

  • On the days leading up to your period, aerobic exercise can lessen PMS symptoms like fatigue and mood swings. 
  • You may have noticed that you're always in a better mood right after a sweat sesh. That's because working out gives you a natural endorphin high.
  • Endorphins can also act sort of like a natural painkiller, which can help alleviate the discomfort—headaches, cramps, or back pain—you experience while on your cycle. 

Working out on period: What workouts should you be doing?

Your cycle starts on the very first day of your period. If you feel like you can do your usual routine without it having a huge toll on your body, go ahead. But if you want to take it easy, go for low-intensity workouts like stretching, yoga, light pilates, or even swimming. Save those cardio workouts for later in your cycle; it's when your lungs supposedly work better.

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The week after your period, that's when your testosterone and estrogen levels start rising. Research says that the first half of the cycle is when women can effectively build strength and more muscle from training. Go for high-intensity workouts that involve intervals like CrossFit, kickboxing, or anything with a boot camp portion, lol. 

When your energy level starts dipping again, adjust your exercise sessions accordingly. Solo, moderate-intensity workouts, like the ones you do while following your favorite YouTube instructor, are your best bet. Keep things slow and steady. If you want something more low-key, you can always just go for a chill run or spend 20 minutes on the elliptical.