Based in Lexington, KY, Johnna Wilford is a writer, running coach, POP Pilates teacher, and fertility instructor. She helps women design health and wellness routines that fit into their lives.

3 things your cycle can tell you about your health

3 things your cycle can tell you about your health

The menstrual cycle is one of the most important parts of being a woman. Women ten to complain about their periods often, especially if they’re active. Just take a look a ads for tampons and you’ll get the impression that women athletes or even just everyday women who exercise regularly can’t hit their sweat session unless they have the right feminine products.

But I think this stereotype is mainly because most women don’t have the information they need to make the smartest choices for their bodies. Understanding the menstrual cycle makes it easier to understand your body and make more informed choices in your fitness life.

Here are 3 insights you can learn by tracking your cycle, as well as the implications for your workout:

Know how to prep for PMS

Rather than taking out your mood swings on friends or shocking yourself with an unexpected sob, tracking your cycle saves you frustration and pain by allowing time to counteract those uncomfortable feelings. Pamper yourself with some extra “me time” at the right moment, and PMS might actually become something you look forward to.

And for those of us who like staying fit, that pampering can and should include exercise. Research suggests that aerobic exercise can help improve symptoms of PMS, such as depression and fatigue. So when your cycle chart suggests your period is around the corner, make sure to add anything that boosts your heart rate. Brisk walking, running, biking, and swimming are all good choices.

Manage menstrual cramps

All women know the pain of menstrual cramps, but now you can anticipate and decrease their intensity. A track record of intense cramps and excessive bleeding might mean you need treatment such as extra progesterone to reduce the pain. Bring your data to the doctor to find the best treatment for you.

Exercise is just as important for you during your period as it is right before your period. Moving around rather than sitting on the couch relieves cramps because it helps release beta-endorphins, which are internal opioids -- your own “human morphine.” Since you may have less energy during your period than at other points in your cycle, low to moderate intensity workouts might be the best options. Yoga and breathing exercises can be a good way to help reduce the pain caused by cramping.

Relate your cycle to your overall health

Highly irregular cycles is a sign that something in your body is out of whack, which could be the result of one or more unhealthy lifestyle factors Take a look at your stress level, travel schedule, sleep habits, diet, and weight for opportunities to improve your health and cycle. Remember, it’s normal for a cycle to be irregular for up to six months after giving birth or quitting hormonal contraception.

Although the most common reasons for irregular cycles are stress, diet, and medical conditions, exercise could be a factor, too. Exercising too much can throw off the timing of menstrual bleeding and sometimes stop it. If you’re missing your periods because you’re underweight from extreme exercise or dieting, that’s a red flag. Make sure to give your body a rest and feed it with the nutrition it needs. Being healthy is more important than looking fit.

I highly recommend charting your fertility. It will help you to understand your menstrual cycles so that it’s easier to create a fitness plan that works for you. Contact me if you want to learn how to track your cycle!

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