Spotting, mood swings and just feeling "blah" ... getting your period is not exactly a party. And menstrual symptoms can affect your workouts — after all, it can be tough to train when you have cramps. But is the reverse also true: Does exercise affect your period, too?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, common physical symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) include:
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- Breast tenderness
- Weight gain
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Skin problems
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Mood changes like irritability, anxiety, depression and social withdrawal
- Poor concentration
- Changes in sexual desire
Despite these symptoms, doctors agree that it's perfectly OK to work out if you want to. In fact, it's encouraged — exercise is one way to reduce PMS symptoms, according to the Office on Women's Health.
But sometimes, working out can change your period. Here are the ways exercise can affect your period, for better and for worse.
Exercise can change your period by causing a lighter, shorter or postponed flow and can reduce PMS symptoms. However, exercise can also change your menstrual cycle by causing breakthrough bleeding or missed periods.
1. It Can Lighten Your Period
Indeed, working out does affect your period. But does exercise make your period lighter? The short answer is yes.
Here's why exercise can make your period lighter: Having obesity is linked to heavier periods, per May 2021 research in the Journal of Endocrinology. On the flip side, working out regularly may cause your body fat mass to decrease, which may result in a lighter period flow.
Those training for extreme sporting events like marathons may also notice their periods getting lighter due to the stress generated from intense exercise, which can lighten your period, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Can Exercise Make Your Period Heavier?
Exercise can affect your period in a number of ways, but there's no evidence to show that working out will make your flow heavier. In fact, regular workouts are one of the most effective methods for how to get a lighter period or ease menstrual symptoms, per the Office on Women's Health.
2. It Can Shorten Your Period
Another effect of exercise on periods is that working out can make your period shorter. For some, this connection between your menstrual cycle and exercise may be temporary as your body adjusts to a new workout routine, according to the Office on Women's Health.
For others, though, a period cut short can be a sign of a group of illnesses called the female athlete triad, which is a disorder characterized by extreme dieting and exercise. Per the AAOS, the triad encompasses three conditions:
- Disordered eating
- Menstrual dysfunction, which can make your period go away faster
- Low bone mineral density
This is a serious condition that requires treatment, so if you notice symptoms, visit your doctor right away.
How to Shorten Your Period
You should never rely on extreme dieting and exercise to get your period to end faster or to make your period shorter. Not getting enough nutrients and placing too much stress on your body can lead to long-term health issues like osteoporosis, per the AAOS.
If you regularly have long, heavy periods and want to know how to shorten your menstrual cycle, talk to your doctor. This symptom can be a sign of hormonal imbalances, ovary dysfunction or uterine fibroids (and likely isn't related to what exercise does to your period), per the Mayo Clinic. Your doctor can help diagnose and treat the underlying problem.
3. It Can Delay Your Period
Indeed, exercise does delay periods in certain situations.
For one, exercise can make your period late due to the female athlete triad. The condition can occur due to a combination of intense dieting and working out, and can make your period late because it causes irregular menstruation, per the AAOS.
How long exercise can delay your period depends on your body and activity level. But if disordered eating and extreme exercise does make your period late, it's time to see your doctor to get treatment before you develop more lasting health complications, according to the AAOS.
How to Work Out if Your Period Is Late
If you notice that working out does delay your period, it's sometimes best to take it easy and let your body recover, per an August 2013 report in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This may mean opting for gentler activities like yoga or taking a break from exercise entirely — talk to your doctor about the best plan for you.
Fueling your body with plenty of nutritious foods before, during and after activity is also key, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
4. It Can Stop Your Period
A missed period isn't always a huge red flag, but it's one to monitor for sure. Not only can a missed cycle mean pregnancy or other underlying health conditions, but per the American Council on Exercise, it may be a sign of overtraining as well — in other words, too much exercising can stop your period.
How much exercise causes a missed period can vary from person to person. For instance, if you just started exercising and missed your period, that may be because your body is temporarily adapting to the added stress of physical activity, according to the AAOS.
And remember: Exercise can delay your period, so if you just started working out, your period may only be late, not gone entirely.
But if you notice your flow is gone for a few months, it's time to see a doctor to determine if you have an underlying issue, according to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
For some, an exercise-delayed period can be a sign of the female athlete triad: Individuals who exercise intensely and adjust their eating habits in a way that leads to extreme weight loss may end up losing their periods, per the AAOS. This occurs when estrogen levels drop to an extent that menstruation is no longer triggered, resulting in missed periods from working out too much.
Not only can this extreme form of working out stop your period, but the decrease in estrogen combined with not eating enough calories or nutrients can also prevent your bones from getting the fuel they need to remain functional and strong, per the AAOS. So while you may be exercising this hard to build strength, it can actually weaken your bones and put you at risk for injury or diseases like osteoporosis.
Just because exercise can stop your period does not mean it's a good thing — see your doctor right away if you notice signs of the female athlete triad, such as several missed periods, stress fractures or disordered eating, per the AAOS.
5. It Can Reduce Period Pain
Good news: Exercise does affect your period in positive ways. For instance, regular activity has been linked to fewer painful cramps, per the Office on Women's Health.
These other lifestyle habits can likewise help ease painful periods:
- Eat nutritious foods
- Avoid caffeine and foods with added salt or sugar
- Manage stress
- Get enough sleep
- Quit smoking
6. It May Relieve Other Menstrual Symptoms
Cramps aren't the only symptom that benefit from working out on your period. So what else does exercise do to your period?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, regular cardio can have the following effects:
- Reduces overall levels of tension
- Elevates and stabilizes mood
- Improves sleep
- Improves self-esteem
That's because physical activity releases endorphins, which are chemicals in your brain that can help you feel good. And those same hormones may help counteract some period symptoms like depression, difficulty concentrating and fatigue, per the Office on Women's Health.
Can Lack of Exercise Cause Late Periods?
There's no evidence to show that inactivity causes late periods. But staying sedentary and then suddenly starting an intense exercise routine does affect your period — it can potentially stop or delay your flow temporarily, per the Office on Women's Health.
7. It May Cause Spotting
Perhaps you started a new fitness routine and noticed that you're bleeding out of turn. However, exercise does not make your period start early.
This is actually breakthrough bleeding, which can occur after exercising if you've recently switched up your regimen, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
For instance, if you went from not exercising at all to suddenly doing an intense workout every day, spotting may happen even when you're not on your period.
Listen to your body when it comes to working out on your period. Heavy flows can make you anemic, which often causes fatigue, per the Mayo Clinic. Exercising when exhausted can lead to poor exercise form, impaired performance and increased injury risk.
- Office on Women’s Health: “Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)”
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Physical Activity Reduces Stress”
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)”
- American Council on Fitness: “Overtraining | 9 Signs of Overtraining to Look Out For”
- Journal of Endocrinology: "Obesity is associated with heavy menstruation that may be due to delayed endometrial repair"
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: "Female Athlete Triad: Problems Caused by Extreme Exercise and Dieting"
- Mayo Clinic: "Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)"
- Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: "Is it normal to miss periods?"
- Office on Women's Health: "Physical activity and your menstrual cycle"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "A case report of recovery of menstrual function following a nutritional intervention in two exercising women with amenorrhea of varying duration"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Is It Normal to Lose Your Period Because of Exercise?"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Vaginal or uterine bleeding"