When you start exercising regularly, many changes can occur in your body. You may experience muscle soreness, weight loss, sleep better, and gain strength. But what you might not expect is that regular exercise can also cause changes in your menstrual cycle.
These changes can be subtle or extreme, depending on how your body responds to the increased activity level. This article covers four of the most common effects exercise can have on your period.
Regular exercise can cause subtle changes in hormone levels. The endometrium may respond to these mixed hormonal signals by shedding randomly, leading to breakthrough bleeding.
Breakthrough bleeding is a common type of vaginal bleeding that occurs outside of your normal period. You may have heard this called discovery.
The color of the blood may be dark red or bright red, and the flow is usually lighter than your normal period. You may also experience breakthrough bleeding during or after vigorous exercise.
Bleeding after exercise can have several different causes. This may be the result of disturbance of the endometrium (the innermost lining of the uterus). Alternatively, it may be due to structural changes in the lining of the uterus or cervix.
Symptoms and Treatment of Different Uterine Diseases
Exercise is usually good for you. But for some people, the stress that strenuous exercise puts on the body can disrupt the hormonal balance that drives the menstrual cycle.
The hypothalamus is a structure in your brain that is the control center of your menstrual cycle. It sends hormonal messages to the pituitary gland and ovaries, which in turn trigger ovulation.
If this communication is interrupted by something that causes your body to stress, like vigorous exercise or significant weight loss, you won’t ovulate. If you don’t ovulate, the changes that trigger your period won’t happen and you’ll miss your period.
Irregular menstruation due to strenuous exercise is called exercise amenorrhea.
an extreme form of exercise induction amenorrhea Known as the Triad of Female Athletes. The Female Athlete Triad describes a specific condition of adolescent and young female athletes who experience:
- menstrual cycle problems
- low calorie intake
- low bone mineral density
The combination of vigorous exercise and low calorie intake places enormous stress on the bodies of young athletes. In response to this stress, the hypothalamus begins to reduce stimulation of the ovaries.
Eventually, ovulation stops, and the athlete’s period stops with it. Over time, her ovaries would slow hormone production and her estrogen levels would drop, leading to bone loss and other negative health effects.
Female athlete triads are common among young female ballet dancers, especially teens who are training hard while trying to keep their weight low, as they sometimes face pressure to lose weight.
change your process
Don’t be alarmed if you notice that your periods get lighter once you start exercising regularly. The same hormonal changes that can stop your period altogether can also lead to lighter flow.
Additionally, regular exercise can lead to weight loss, which can also lead to lighter flow.
Body fat (adipose tissue) actually produces a form of estrogen. Too much estrogen in your body can cause your uterine lining to be more than usual during the first half of your cycle. The thicker the lining, the more menstrual flow.
Therefore, losing weight reduces the amount of estrogen in the body, which reduces the buildup of the lining of the uterus that occurs with each cycle. Thinner lining means lighter flow.
Strenuous exercise can disrupt the hormonal balance that drives the menstrual cycle. This can cause you to bleed when you’re not on your period, have a lighter-than-normal flow, or stop your flow entirely. Young athletes, especially those who eat very little, are known to experience this condition.
7 things you should know about your period
There are two different types of period pain – called dysmenorrhea. Exercise may help relieve pain, but it depends on what type of dysmenorrhea you have.
Primary dysmenorrhea is a painful period with no clear cause. It usually starts with your first period and then pains every period after that. It usually goes away in your 20s. Exercise is likely to help reduce this painful period.
Hormonal changes caused by regular exercise may reduce the amount of prostaglandins in the lining of the uterus. Prostaglandins are chemicals that cause uterine muscles to contract and produce spasms. This is why anti-inflammatory pain relievers that block prostaglandin production, such as Motrin (ibuprofen), work best for menstrual cramps.
In theory, if you can reduce the amount of prostaglandins in your body, you can reduce menstrual cramps. That said, more research is needed to prove that exercise reduces your cramps in this way.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is a painful period caused by an underlying disorder. This type of menstrual pain usually develops over time and may not start until the 20s or even later.
Two common conditions that cause this type of menstrual pain are uterine fibroids and adenomyosis, in which the lining of the uterus grows into the muscles of the uterus.
If you have secondary dysmenorrhea, exercise may help relieve menstrual pain. That’s because, even if you have an underlying medical condition, exercise can still reduce the amount of prostaglandins in your body.
On the other hand, exercise can make your period more painful, especially if you have fibroids. These benign tumors grow on the smooth muscle of the uterine wall, and in order for them to do so, blood vessels must form to bring blood and nutrients to them.
When you exercise, your body directs blood flow to your heart, lungs, and muscles, and away from structures that are not involved in movement. Usually, your uterus will adapt to this situation without any problems. But if you have fibroids, blood flow to them also decreases when you exercise.
This results in a ischemia, which is similar to what happens in the heart muscle during a heart attack. When muscle ischemia, you experience pain.
If your fibroids are larger, you may experience more intense menstrual cramps while exercising due to ischemia.
Intense exercise can cause changes in the hormones responsible for the menstrual cycle. When you don’t have your period, it can cause you to have breakthrough bleeding that is lighter than usual, or sometimes no period at all.
Exercise may help relieve menstrual pain in some people because it reduces the amount of prostaglandins in the body, which are responsible for menstrual pain. However, people with certain medical conditions, such as uterine fibroids, may experience more pain when exercising.
For the most part, some breakthrough bleeding or an occasional missed period isn’t a big deal if you’ve just started exercising, suddenly increased your workout intensity, or just lost a lot of weight. However, if you notice changes in your cycle two to three months in a row, you should discuss it with your doctor.
Why do I get my period twice a month?