What You Should Know About Exercising on Your Period, Straight From a Doctor

Cramps, bloating, and fatigue are definitely valid reasons for wanting to skip a workout, but keeping your fitness regimen up may actually help you manage your PMS symptoms. According to Dr. Kate White, MD, MPH, and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, incorporating exercise into your regular routine is known to benefit your overall health, including that time of the month. In addition to helping your energy levels, working out during your period can also combat moodiness. However, the key is to treat exercise as a long-term prescription rather than a one-time treatment. Translation: you can't expect exercise to alleviate your symptoms after a single workout; you need to work out regularly sort of as a preventative measure.

"I don't think about exercise as like an aspirin," Dr. White told POPSUGAR. "It's not something that you take when you have the pain. It's more like a vitamin that you take every day towards improving overall health."

And if you've personally found that exercising regularly helps keep your cramps in check, taking significant time off can cause painful cramps to return with a vengeance. However, pushing yourself when the last thing you want to do is hit the gym can hurt you too. Listen to your body, and if you're feeling particularly crappy, it's completely OK to allow yourself to skip a day or two. Instead, look for other forms of self-care, such as taking a hot bath to soothe bad cramps.

Are There Exercises That Can Worsen PMS Symptoms?

It makes sense to think that ab exercises or intense cardio can make cramps worse, but Dr. White says no. "Whatever your usual routine is and whatever feels OK on the days that you're not feeling great, that's totally fine," she said. "There's nothing that you should avoid that we think is going to exacerbate your PMS." However, you may not have the energy to get through your usual boot camps.

The reason most women experience cramps around their period is due to hormonal shifts in their cycle. Dr. White shared that most of her patients notice cramping a day or two before the start of their period that tends to end a day or so afterwards.

Ways to Combat PMS Symptoms

  • Getting enough sleep (for mental clarity and mood)
  • Managing stress (for mood)
  • Limiting salty foods and eating smaller, more frequent meals (for bloat)
  • Replacing caffeine and alcohol with water (for bloat)

Although as women we've pretty much accepted monthly pains as a fact of life, it's important to distinguish the difference between what is and isn't normal when it comes to your menstrual cycle. "Normal" may not be the best word, as it varies from person to person, but once you find that your symptoms are interfering with your life, it's time to get a professional opinion. Dr. White's best advice is to log your period each month. Fitbit's new female health-tracking feature — which is available to download without owning a Fitbit device — is a great option because it provides personalized insights that you can directly share with your doctor.

"Whenever a woman comes in and says, 'I have a problem with my period,' my advice for her at the end of our whole conversation's always the same: go keep a diary, then come back again and we'll talk about it," Dr. White said. "But if a woman can show me what's happening, it really accelerates the conversation towards figuring out what's happening because symptoms may be a sign of something else. It's only PMS if it's cyclical and related to your period."

Remember that even though symptoms like bloating, headaches, and moodiness are completely common, having lousy periods all the time isn't something you have to normalize. Whether it's heavy or prolonged bleeding, back pain, or bad PMS in general, you don't have to endure it.

"Just an acknowledgment that you don't have to live that way, I think it's really important self-care," Dr. White said. "You should take care of yourself all month long but especially during your period."