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How the menstrual cycle affects physical activity levels in women

The menstrual cycle is a natural process that every woman experiences throughout their reproductive years. One aspect of the menstrual cycle that often goes unnoticed is its impact on physical activity.

By understanding the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how they affect energy levels, you can tailor your workouts to still achieve your fitness goals.

Throughout the menstrual cycle a woman’s body goes through many changes, including fluctuation in energy levels which can have a significant effect on a woman’s exercise performance. By understanding the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how they affect energy levels, you can tailor your workouts to still achieve your fitness goals.   

The menstrual cycle begins from the first day of a woman’s period and continues until the day before their next period, which again starts the cycle. The four stages of the menstrual cycle are:

  • The menstrual phase
  • The follicular phase 
  • The ovulatory phase 
  • The luteal phase 

Menstrual cycle

Menstrul Phase

The menstrual phase commonly lasts till the fifth day of the menstrual cycle. This phase involves the shredding of the inner lining of soft tissue inside the uterus. During this stage your levels of oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest. This, along with the loss of blood, can leave you feeling low on energy. This is also the phase where you may be experiencing symptoms such as cramps, headaches or nausea. 

During the menstrual phase it is important to listen to your body and not to overwork yourself. However, this should not be a reason to cease exercise all together. Instead you can focus your training on light cardio and light strength exercises in order to prevent injuries caused by fatigue. So, lifting weights when you are on your period is not the time to push yourself to achieve your next personal record. Instead, give yourself a break and either just maintain the weight lifting levels you are accustomed to, or don't be ashamed to go lighter. 

There are also several yoga poses which have been found to decrease menstrual symptoms, like cramp. These yoga poses are designed to relieve pain in the lower back and hip region. You can find out more about these poses here.

yoga

Follicular Phase

The next stage of the menstrual cycle is the follicular phase. This phase overlaps with the menstrual phase as it also starts on day 1, however it usually lasts until day 11 of the cycle. The effects of this phase don’t become evident until after the menstrual phase has ended. 

During the follicular phase oestrogen and progesterone levels are starting to rise in preparation for the ovulatory phase, and this may explain why you may feel a lot more energetic now that your period has ended. 

Due to increased energy levels, the follicular phase is the optimum time to push yourself and possibly even try new modes of exercises. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and boxing are great forms of exercises to challenge yourself whilst energy levels are high.

Once again strength training is also great to do during this phase, however now is the time to take advantage of those high energy levels and really push yourself to even go for those heavier weights you may have been hesitant to lift during the menstrual phase. 

strong woman

Ovulatory Phase

Following the follicular phase, we come to the ovulatory phase. This phase commonly lasts up to five days during the 12 to 17-day mark of the cycle. The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinising hormone (LH) come into play in order to trigger the body to start ovulating. Oestrogen is heightened meaning that energy levels are at their peak during this phase. So, when it comes to exercise you can continue to perform at the same high intensity workouts that were advised in the follicular phase.

jonathan borba lrQPTQs7nQQ unsplash

Luteal Phase

The final stage of the cycle is the luteal phase. This phase commonly starts during day 18 and lasts to day 30, though this may vary from person to person. This is the last stage before your period begins again. At the start of this phase your body’s energy levels are still quite high, however they quickly start to decrease in preparation for menstruation. During the luteal stage the body peaks in progesterone, which can commonly make people feel drowsy. Exercise during his phase can continue as usual, however you might find it difficult to maintain your usual intensity throughout the entire exercise session. So again, this is a time to listen to your body and not push too hard. 

By understanding your body and its needs during each phase of the menstrual cycle you can adjust your workouts accordingly in order to optimise your performance and avoid injury. 

So, take control of your fitness journey and make the most of your menstrual cycle. 

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Harper Truonson

Harper Truonson

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