When it’s ‘that time of the month’ you barely feel like getting out of bed so the thought of working out may seem unimaginable. But doing moderate exercise may be just what the doctor ordered to relieve the aches and pains that come along with your period. So grab your most comfortable and flattering workout attire and do any of these three activities to provide relief, boost your mood, and give you some much-needed energy.
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Researchers agree that aerobic activity may be the best combatant to painful menstrual cramps. Experts at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York recommend participating in aerobic activity at least 3 days a week for 30 minutes. It not only increases blood flow, but also releases beta-endorphins which leave you feeling good and can work to relieve pain and improve your mood during your period. A brisk morning walk or bike ride through the park are great activities as fresh air and relaxation can also work to improve your well being.
Yoga offers relief during your period in a variety of ways. Deep breathing increases blood flow and can relieve some of the pain associated with menstrual cramps. And the relaxation that comes with controlled and consistent breathing can calm your nerves and further reduce pain. Certain poses focus on opening the hips and relaxing the pelvis. Here are three particularly helpful and ‘period friendly’ asanas (body positions):
- Seated Spinal Twist. Sit with both legs straight and a long spine. Bend your right knee and cross the right leg over the left, with the right foot flat on the ground. Bring the left elbow to the outside of the right thigh to achieve a counter twist. Gently apply pressure into the left leg with the elbow to deepen the twist on your exhales. Focus on taking deep, controlled breaths and maintaining a long spine. Stay in the posture for 8-10 breaths before switching sides.
- Supine Hip Opener. Begin by laying on your back and bringing the soles of your feet to touch at center, allowing your knees to open wide to the sides. You can bring your hands to gently grasps your two ankles. Focus on deep inhales and exhales as you allow the weight of your legs to deepen the stretch, opening up your hips and pelvis to relieve some of the discomfort that comes with menstrual cramps.
- Child’s Pose. This pose will help calm your breathing and relieve lower back pain associated with cramps. Begin by kneeling and then lower your hips onto your heels and fold your body down over your thighs. You can either stretch your arms out in front of you or allow them to lay back at your sides. Focus on sending expansive breaths to your ribcage, opening your lower back and releasing your body into the floor on your exhales.
Tip: If you’re feeling up to it you can also take a yoga class to relieve menstrual symptoms. The continuous flow has the added benefit of aerobic activity and mental relaxation.
Light to moderate weight lifting
Lifting weights can release endorphins that decrease feelings of pain and discomfort. It also increases blood flow to the muscles and helps alleviate pain associated with your menstrual cycle. Pay attention to how your body is responding to the exercise and go at a pace that feels comfortable for you. Here’s my favorite 3 exercise circuit when I have my ‘special friend’:
- Sumo Squat. Begin standing with feet slightly wider than hips and feet turned slightly outwards. Hinge at the hips and knees to lower the body down to 90 degrees and then return to standing on your exhale. This exercise will help you feel strong and also open the hips and pelvis at the same time.
- Medicine Ball Chop. Stand with both feet hips width apart facing forward while holding a medicine ball up and to the right. Simultaneously pivot the right foot and inwardly rotate the right hip and chop the medicine ball down towards your left. Press off the left foot to return to standing start position on an exhale. Perform 15 chops before switching sides.
- Medicine Ball Slam. This is my favorite exercise to relieve menstrual cramps and frustration. Begin standing with feet slightly wider than hip width apart and feet facing forwards while holding a medicine ball overhead. While maintaining a neutral spine, bend at the hips and knees as if executing a squat and throw the medicine ball at the ground as hard as you can. Complete the squat to pick up the medicine ball and return to standing with it overhead. Repeat. Tip: Make sure to use a medicine ball that does not bounce back. If you’re using a medicine ball that bounces you will catch it after the slam, rather than squatting to pick it up.
The next time you’re feeling miserable from menstrual cramps try one of these activities before reaching for a pint of ice cream or French fries to ease your discomfort. Remember to be gentle with yourself, listen to your body, and to perform these exercises with the goal of feeling good in your body.
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Jennifer Lutz is a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. She trains private clients around New York City and at Equinox Fitness. It’s her goal to help women live healthier, happier lives. Follow her on Twitter at @JLutzFitness.