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Pre-Menstrual Symptoms (PMS) And Exercise – What To Do

“You’re being a dick” my fiancé, Mike said to me in bed earlier this week.

 

“A real dick – you are moody, grumpy, resistant and making every interaction hard work”

 

Did I get mad at this?  Nope, he was right.  And he was totally right to call me out on my behavior; I was behaving like a spoilt brat and I knew it.

 

I just couldn’t help it.

 

Last week marked Week 11 of the Fitness First #howfitfeels challenge. If you have been following you will know that my emotional state has deteriorated.

Removing formal exercise (and as much incidental activity as possible) has affected my mental and emotional health – not an unsurprising outcome.  I was ready to experience the changes, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the affect this has had on my menstrual cycle.  In particular, how I feel before my cycle begins.

 

Throughout this challenge I have had 3 cycles.  The first cycle occurred at Week 1 so there is nothing remarkable to report there, the second 2 are a stark contrast.

 

The main difference being the significant (bad) PMS symptoms I have experienced in the past 2 cycles. My last two cycles have been brutal; It’s like someone has physically and emotionally battered me.

 

It hasn’t been fun and I haven’t been fun to be around.

 

This post is not about ‘blaming that time of month’ for me being a dick (secretly I can be an asshole so these PMS issues just exacerbated it).  I want to share my story with you so as to help you understand the influence of exercise on PMS.

 

WHAT IS PMS?

Ever had one of those moments when a FB video of a puppy reduced you to tears?  Or sitting at the dinner table ‘happy as larry’ when all a sudden someone says something that rubs you the wrong way and you become a raging poltergeist?  If these moments were close to your period starting than the chances are high that you have suffered from PMS.

 

PMS (pre-mentrual syndrome) is a collection of symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle (1).  These may start about 1-2 weeks out form the first day of bleeding and may include swings in mood, teariness, abdominal pain, breast tenderness, tiredness, anxiety and depression.

 

Apparently there are up to 150 described symptoms of PMS (2) but the number of symptoms that most women experience are much less.

 

In society PMS is an often joked about phenomenon.  If a woman is emotional, angry, upset or grumpy her period is to blame.  PMS and the menstrual cycle is often used as an insult.

 

period joke

But the menstrual cycle and PMS is nothing to joke about.  One in three women suffers discomforting symptoms in the days before their period. For one in 20 the symptoms are bad enough to more seriously affect their lives (https://www.womens-health-concern.org/help-and-advice/factsheets/premenstrual-syndrome-pms/).

 

Many of us experience PMS but just because it is common does not make it normal – especially if the symptoms are extremely uncomfortable.  Yet, we accept that PMS is something that we ‘just have to deal with.

 

For most of my adult life I have had trouble with my menstrual cycle.  At 23 I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Since then I have made a concerted effort to control this dysfunction.

 

I have managed this with exercise, nutrition and minimising stress levels.

 

Up until this challenge my PMS symptoms have been quite mild and non-eventful.

 

However since removing exercise from my world the spin off effects have been intense.  I am craving more sugar (in the form of cakes and pastries), I have reduced my protein intake, I am sleeping less (only 7 hours/night), am mainlining coffee like an addict and am unable to control my stress levels.  Clearly each of these feeds into the other, compounding the negative effects which in turn feeds the other.

 

This spiralling of my habits has created one hell of a potent cocktail for metabolism disruption.

 

PMS included.

 

WHAT I’VE BEEN EXPERIENCING:

 

Physical Effects:

In the days leading up to mensturation I have been incredibly sore.  My lower back and sacrum have been aching constantly and my breasts (which for the record have swollen to the size of soccer balls) are EXTREMELY tender.  So tender I can’t even sleep on them.  The downside is that these glorious fun bags of mine are extremely appealing to Mike but I won’t let him near them bc they are so sore!

I have had a headache for days, a change in my digestive system (loose stools) and extreme bloating (I look like I’m 6 months pregnant).

 

Emotional Effects:

MOODINESS.  IRRITABILITY. GRUMPINESS.

I have been picking fights with Mike (just because I can), am angry, annoyed and have zero tolerance.  I oscillate between this and hopelessness; an overwhelming feeling that there is nothing worth doing.  I have periodically dipped into depression.

 

Put these emotional effects with the physical effects and WHAM – one sore, tired, depressed and grumpy motherfucker.

 

I am very fortunate that I work from home and don’t have to deal with a boss, co-workers or a specific workload but if I did I would guess that my ability to work would be seriously impaired.

 

PMS has the potential to negatively affect ALL areas of a woman’s life.

 

THE EFFECTS OF EXERCISE ON PMS:

 

Dedicated research has found treatments and alleviation techniques for those PMS sufferers.  Most agree that some form of movement or exercise is just as, if not more effective than drugs.

 

A 2013 study concluded “Overall, the findings of this research show that aerobic exercise training to patients suffering from PMS can reduce symptoms, resulting in better job and social performance. It can be recommended as an effective treatment method. Since this syndrome can have a negative impact on the employment and the performance of women and can cause economic damage, this method is recommended to improve other aspects of women’s health as well”

 

In a more current study the authors concluded that “ female employees participating in a short-term yoga exercise intervention reported fewer physical premenstrual symptoms associated with a lower risk of menstrual pain. Workplaces and employers can help female employees to understand the benefits of regular exercise, such as yoga, which may decrease premenstrual distress and improve the health of female employees”

 

Without going ‘too-sciency’ these studies show that exercise HELPS PMS.



 

I can vouch for that.

 

I can say with certainty that the increase in severity of my PMS is directly correlated to the lack of exercise.  Yes I understand that ‘correlation is not causation’ but in this instance I have to go with my gut instinct and rely on my body intuition and the many signs and symptoms that I’ve been experiencing.

 

And my body is telling me this:  START EXERCISING AGAIN!

 

Because, to be honest I need my breasts to shrink so they can fit back into all my bra’s without spilling out of!!

 

REFS:

(1) http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/premenstrual-syndrome.html

(2) http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/premenstrual-syndrome

http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/09/17/how-to-eliminate-pms-in-5-simple-steps/

Samadi Z, Taghian F, Valiani M. The effects of 8 weeks of regular aerobic exercise on the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in non-athlete girls. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research. 2013;18(1):14-19

Tsai S-Y. Effect of Yoga Exercise on Premenstrual Symptoms among Female Employees in Taiwan. Mawson AR, ed. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2016;13(7):721. doi:10.3390/ijerph13070721

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