How effective is exercise in relieving PMS symptoms?
The jury is still out. A few small studies have found that regular exercise can ease some of the pain and stress that you may have each month during the week or two leading up to your period. In one trial, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver had eight previously sedentary women work up to running 12 miles per week over six months. At the end of the study, the runners reported less breast tenderness, bloating, and moodiness before their periods. Six normally active women who did not increase their level of exercise felt no changes in their usual premenstrual symptoms. Another study found that women who exercised regularly felt less pain and depression before their periods than nonexercisers. Unfortunately, these studies are very small and no large-scaled studies have been able to confirm that exercise reduces premenstrual symptoms. Also, no studies have looked at how exercise might help women with severe premenstrual syndrome, a clinical disorder in which women find themselves plagued each month by pain, headache, cramps, depression, and fatigue, among other symptoms. But since exercise is good for you anyway, it won't hurt to give it a try.
How does it help?
Exercise is a great stress-buster. It also boosts your metabolism and improves your circulation. When you get your blood moving, it carries oxygen and nutrients to the cells more efficiently, so you feel less sluggish. But don't go overboard; extremely vigorous workouts (such as doing step aerobics for two hours a day) may exacerbate rather than relieve some symptoms.
Aerobic activity can also produce brain chemicals known as endorphins that boost your mood and give you a sense of control and well-being, which could help ease the anxiety, depression, and mood swings you may experience each month. Some researchers even think endorphins in the bloodstream can stabilize your blood sugar and cut your cravings for sweets.
What kind of exercise works best?
Moderate aerobic activities like walking, jogging, biking, and swimming for about 30 minutes five times a week may be your best bet. One three-month study of 23 women found that those who participated in an aerobic exercise program saw more improvement in their premenstrual symptoms, particularly depression, than those who did strength training. Yoga can also be helpful. Its combination of gentle stretching, breathing techniques, and meditation can help ease muscle tension, focus your mind, and decrease moodiness.
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