The truth is cramping, bleeding, and other discomforts can make even the completion of a 30-minute workout an accomplishment.
If you tend to ditch the gym during that time of the month, here's something to think about: A woman named Kiran Gandhi recently made news for running the London Marathon during her period—without a tampon. She did it to raise awareness for women who lack access to feminine care products, and crossed the finish line with blood-soaked tights. So if she could run 26.2 miles bleeding freely, then the rest of us can probably handle a 45-minute Spin class, right? Yes, absolutely—in fact, multiple studies show menstruating women feel better when they get moving.
Here, everything you need to know about exercising on your period (your call whether you want to raise awareness about it).
It helps with annoying period-related symptoms
It may seem like the last thing you want to do when you have your period, but working out can help relieve the symptoms that make getting your period so annoying in the first place."The more active you are [overall] and more regular you are with your activity, the better your periods end up being—less cramping, less heavy flow," explains Stacy Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist for USA Cycling Women's Track Endurance Program.
Case in point: when you sweat, water leaves the body, which can relieve uncomfortable belly bloat. Exercise also releases mood-boosting endorphins, which anecdotal evidence suggests might at least take your mind off discomfort or pain. And, a recent study revealed a correlation between higher levels of physical fitness and fewer PMS symptoms.
It may be the best time to do HIIT
The best workout to do during your period? High-intensity interval training, Sims says. “When your period starts, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. And because of this, women can access carbohydrate/glycogen easily, as compared to high-estrogen time periods [when we] rely more on the slow breakdown of fat." In other words, this hormone shift makes fuel more accessible to your body, allowing you to push harder and get more out of short, fast-paced workouts than you would during other times of the month.
It keeps you cool
Really. Turns out your body temperature is actually lower during your period, which is a low-hormone phase. "This increases time to fatigue, and allows the body to store more heat without hitting the tipping point of central nervous system fatigue," Sims says. Not to mention, during this time we can tolerate hotter and more humid climates (hello, hot yoga!), Sims adds.
You can make it more comfortable
Know your period is coming up? Don't let the pain sneak up on you. It's totally fine to take an over-the-counter NSAID pain reliever, like naproxen or ibuprofen, 24 to 48 hours before your period is due. This way, you can sidestep your symptoms before they keep you home from the gym. If you forget, be sure to take them at the first twinge of pain.
If you're like Gandhi and find tampons uncomfortable during exercise, there's no shortage of products to try: pads, liners, and now menstrual cups and even specialized period-proof underwear.
It’s okay to give yourself a break
All this said, if you're really just not feeling it, don't beat yourself up for not going all out. Even just a gentle stroll counts as exercise, and it may help you feel better. "Your best bet is to do some light and easy movement that helps reduce inflammation via blood flow," Sims says. “If you really feel terrible, it's all right to take a day or two off."
A final note, if you're regularly sidelined by your periods, consider talking to your doctor; prescription remedies like the birth control pill might be helpful. Plus, it's a good idea to have major aches and super heavy periods investigated because those could signal a health problem like endometriosis.