Three things are inevitable in life: Death, taxes and, for roughly half the population, menstruation. Although some medical complications of your period can be debilitating, a normal period is no reason to stop your jogging routine. The exercise might even relieve period symptoms.
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A Natural Cycle
If you're hesitant about jogging while on your period, it can help to remember that the menstrual cycle isn't really a once-a-month event. It's a true cycle that runs all through the month, and the release of menstrual blood is simply the signal that one part of the cycle has ended and another has begun.
So while concerns about exercising during your menstrual flow are completely natural, you might find that your period isn't the only part of your menstrual cycle that affects your desire or ability to exercise.
For example, premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, which for some women occurs in the days before their period, can include a number of symptoms. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists provides a comprehensive list of documented symptoms of PMS, including depression, insomnia, fatigue, gastrointestinal symptoms and abdominal pain, all of which can affect your exercise habits.
Happily, ACOG also notes that for many women, regular aerobic exercise can lessen PMS symptoms. They recommend setting a goal of at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week throughout the month — not just when you're experiencing PMS symptoms. That coincides nicely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for physical activity.
Even if you don't necessarily feel like exercising, a good workout can boost your mood and energy levels, be mentally satisfying, and, as the Office of Women's Health notes, regular exercise — including activities like jogging — can help reduce menstrual cramps with almost no risks.
A small study of 40 young women in an Iranian university, published in a January 2013 issue of the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, also found that eight weeks of regular aerobic exercise helped significantly reduce PMS symptoms. A more recent study, also conducted at an Iranian university and published in a 2018 issue of the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, showed similar results in a larger group of 70 students, specifically regarding dysmenorrhea, or painful periods — the medical term for menstrual cramps.
While these studies are just two from a generous handful that confirm the advice from the Office of Women's Health, they're arguably more important because they demonstrate that PMS and other menstrual difficulties are issues faced the world over. If you ever find yourself struggling with navigating your life around unpleasant menstrual symptoms, you are absolutely not alone.
Read more: Running Workouts for Beginners
Spotting While Jogging
What about the ever-present specter of "leaking" while jogging? The human body comes equipped with sphincters to regulate the flow of urine and feces, but it doesn't have any such mechanism for menstrual blood. Nor can menstruating humans choose when their menstrual flow will begin, except for some limited manipulation via certain methods of hormonal birth control.
Because of that, almost every menstruating woman has dealt or will, at some point, deal with the mortifying realization that menstrual blood has soaked through her clothes and is on display to the outside world. For some, the unusual exertion and ever-changing positions of an intense workout, whether jogging or otherwise, can make the situation feel more precarious.
But there are plenty of options to keep your menstrual flow in check while you get your jog on — and with a little experimentation, you can find the one that's right for you. Many women find tampons or menstrual cups to be effective for use during exercise, although in the latter case it can take some experimentation to find the right cup and learn how to use it for a leak-free experience. In either case, wearing a menstrual pad or pantyliner as backup can help you feel more confident in your period protection.
Read more: Can You Do Yoga During Your Period?
A menstrual cup is what the name implies — a small, soft reusable cup that is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual fluid. You then dispose of the collected fluid in a toilet, wipe or wash the cup clean, and reinsert it.
External Protection Measures
Tampons and menstrual cups have the advantage of not adding any bulk to your outline, even in the most form-fitting workout clothes. If you prefer to wear menstrual pads, aka maxipads, and are concerned about their outline showing through your favorite jogging pants, you can purchase low-profile, form-fitting pads of thin foam that are much less likely to show. If you prefer to work out in thong underwear, they make menstrual pads to fit those too — although their absorbency can be limited by their necessarily small size.
Wearing workout clothes in a dark color (or a dark print, if possible) also helps you maintain the privacy of your menstrual setup, with the added bonus that leaks are less likely to show through dark fabric. While in the store or your closet, you can use the same test to check for pad invisibility that you'd use to check for panty lines: Hold the running tights in your hand, make a fist with one hand and place that inside the seat of the tights. Use the other hand to pull the fabric as taut as possible over your fist.
If the fabric doesn't become transparent enough under tension for your knuckles to show through, it should do a decent job of concealing both panty lines and any lingering profile of a menstrual pad in place.
Another relatively recent innovation in menstrual protection is period underwear: These are panties made of special absorbent material that wicks fluid away from your body and stores it. Depending on your flow, these can make an excellent stand-alone solution or backup protection and, like menstrual cups, they have the added eco-friendly and budget-friendly benefit of being reusable many times over.
Experimenting a little to find the right protection method for you is perfectly natural. Ultimately, the point is to remember that you have options, and you might find that one protection method works best during sedentary parts of the day while you need another in place when you go jogging.
Dealing With Menstrual Symptoms
Not everyone is graced with an easy period, and not every day of your period will be the same. If you have such a heavy flow that you can't find protection you feel confident in, you have a few options. The first is medical intervention. Your doctor can help you sort out whether that unmanageable period flow signals any other conditions you should be aware of, and might prescribe certain types of hormonal birth control to help get your periods under control.
You can also use a little strategy to handle your heaviest period days. For example, carry extra menstrual supplies in a waist pack and plan your outdoor jogging route to pass by bathrooms at appropriate intervals. Or consider doing your jogging indoors on a treadmill or track, where you can hit the bathroom as needed with a minimum of inconvenience.
If you find that process to be bothersome or inconvenient, you could also adjust your running schedule to work around the most inconvenient days of your period, or to suit your energy levels as they vary through your period or throughout the month. After all, there's no shame in working with your body's natural biology instead of against it.
- The British Journal of General Practice: The role of exercise in the treatment of menstrual disorders: the evidence
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Frequently Asked Questions Gynecologic Problems"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Office of Women's Health: "Physical Activity and Your Menstrual Cycle"
- Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research: "The Effects of 8 Weeks of Regular Aerobic Exercise on the Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome in Non-Athlete Girls"
- Journal of Education and Health Promotion: "The Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Clinical Trial Study"