Periods and Exercise

Let's look at some statistics:

  1. Dysmenorrhea is a general term for pain associated with periods and affects over half of women at some point in their lives. Approximately 20% of women have pain severe enough to affect their daily lives.

  2. Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that forms the lining of the uterus is found outside of the uterus. This tissue grows and bleeds causing the surrounding tissue to become inflamed, irritated and swollen, and the breakdown of this tissue results in scar tissue which can cause organs to fuse together. The result is pain so severe that women with this condition are unable to function for up to two weeks per month. 1 in 10 women have endometriosis. Additionally, 4 in 10 women that have infertility issues have endometriosis.

  3. Heavy menstrual bleeding is characterized by the following: bleeding that lasts more than 7 days; bleeding that soaks through one or more tampons/pads every hour; needing to wear a tampon and pad at the same time; needing to change pads/tampons during the night; menstrual flow with blood clots the size of a quarter or larger. Heavy bleeding is caused by a number of serious health issues like fibroids, polyps, endometriosis, adenomyosis, and cancer. One-third of women seek medical treatment for this issue.

  4. Premenstrual Syndrome is defined as physical and emotional changes before or during menstruation. These symptoms include: depression, irritability, crying spells, anxiety, confusion, social withdrawal, poor concentration, insomnia, food cravings, bloating, breast tenderness, weight gain, headache, aches and pains, fatigue, skin problems, gastrointestinal symptoms, and abdominal pain. 3 in 4 women experience these symptoms monthly. If these symptoms are severe enough to affect relationships it is classified as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). It is estimated that 1 in 20 women deal with PMDD.

  5. Menstrual Migraines are headaches that cause severe throbbing or pulsing in the head and are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. 2 in 10 women report experiencing menstrual migraines.

These are just a handful of statistics regarding issues women face every month (sometimes more, sometimes less if you have irregular periods).

I personally have experienced painful periods my entire life and I have spoken to every doctor about it. The standard response was "You probably have Endometriosis." However, the only way to determine is to perform exploratory surgery and no doctor was willing to do that on a seemingly healthy young woman. The pain got worse as I got older and seriously affected my daily life. Fifteen years after it started I tried again, this time speaking with an incredible Nurse Practitioner who, and this is not an exaggeration, saved my life. We found out I have a bicornuate uterus (heart-shaped) and two endometrium. Endometrium is the lining inside the uterus that sheds each month, and I have two. This means my body sheds double the amount of tissue it is supposed to, causing massive blood clots and all the horrible symptoms that go along with it. I learned trough trial and error how to deal with it, and got some semblance of my life back, albeit with alternative medicine.

Postpartum periods for me look very different with only small amounts of manageable pain. However, my emotional symptoms are much more severe than they ever have been, causing uncontrollable crying and intense feelings of depression.

Now, when half of the population are women, and over half of those women experience at least some of these symptoms, how is it that we still are not supposed to talk about it? This is somehow still a taboo topic. Do not get me started on the patriarchal society we live in that defines how the medical community addresses women's issues. We will save that for another day.

When someone is experiencing severe pain and/or depressive symptoms, chances are they are not going to be able to exercise. Some will say to power through, stop complaining, you obviously are not motivated enough. Not me.

A huge part of living a fit and healthy lifestyle is LISTENING TO YOUR BODY. If you do not take the time to listen to your body, you are not serving your body in the best way possible. Our bodies take care of us, which means we, in turn, need to take care of our bodies. Even with the small amount of pain I experience, I do not exercise the first 2-3 days of my cycle. Oddly enough, I have learned that my balance suffers as a result as well, so I do not practice yoga for about 7 days a month, starting a few days before my cycle starts. I tend to fall a lot, which has caused injury and frustration, so I just steer clear.

I also give in to my food cravings because I have learned that it serves my mental health better during this time to eat things I enjoy, like pasta and chocolate. Two days of eating fettuccine alfredo, macaroni and cheese, and ice cream is not going to derail my fitness journey, but you know what will? Denying myself the things I love that make me happy. Living a fit and healthy lifestyle is all about balance, and I have learned this level of balance works for me. Everybody is different and wonderful and every body is different and wonderful. You need to learn what works for you, and only you.

So, if you start your period and you feel like crap, sweat pants are the only things that fit, and you feel like watching a sad movie to cry it out, your body is screaming "Love me! Take care of me!" Listen to your body and mind and give them what they need. Screw anyone that tells you different.

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