The time of the month means varying complications for every woman—some are plagued by hormonal acne, some face the nagging effects of swollen breasts and most would be all too familiar with the pertinacious pains of menstrual cramps. And it’s a wide spectrum of severity when it comes to that; from mild aches to a dizzying spell to the brink of losing consciousness.
I, too, have endured years of persistent monthly cramps, at times relying on painkillers or what most would dub the miracle pink pills to get by. But in personal resolution to absolve myself of painkillers as well as off-the-shelf medication, I found the unlikely remedy two years ago. It was the year I started exercising and developed an active routine, which involved five days of workouts on average per week. When my period cycle kicked in coincidentally, I was just on my way for a run, which I decided to go ahead with. 4km later and the slight discomfort I felt in my lower abdomen was eased. Recounting the days when I had cramps that were so bad that rendered me motionless, it then dawned upon me that, lying down or being in a sedentary position wasn’t helping the situation at all. If anything, the condition worsens overtime when you’re not moving.
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Physician Jun Negoro-Liu from Mino, a Chinese medical clinic and founder of Kanpobliss app, explains why. “Exercise is advised because it promotes the lung function and moves qi and blood.” While the first reaction to period cramps might often fall on rest, movement in the body could actually counter the pains on the contrary. However, there still needs to be a form of restraint when it comes to working out on your period. She elaborates: “Women who do intense cardio for several hours a week, on top of a busy work schedule, could cause depletion to their blood and yin reserve, which may affect their period pain or flow. I’d advise keen exercisers to reduce their workouts to three times a week and at moderation.”
The same rules apply when we feel fatigue, instead of falling back to a horizontal (by default) position, what could help with that would be some form of an exercise. Physician Jun says: “In these situations, opt for gentle exercise that gathers energy (instead of spending it), like taichi or yoga, or a light walk to help build internal energy and calm the nervous system.”
Today, I can safely say that my days of blackout from period pains are over—all thanks to the power of movement. Below, Physician Jun recommends the optimal routines we should adopt for each phase of our monthly cycle.
Menstruation: No exercise or minimum light exercise like walking and gentle stretching.
Follicular phase (post-period to before ovulation): Increase in intensity.
Ovulation: Heavier weights, HIIT and strenuous activity if your body is ready for it.
Luteal (post-ovulation to before period): Wind down to prep for your next cycle. Stick to exercises like yoga, pilates and lighter weights.