The Single Best Thing You Can Do For Your Body and Your PMS
I’m talking of course about exercise.
No – don’t go away! I know the last thing you want to do when you’re PMS-ing is to squeeze yourself into lycra and face the world. But honestly, it doesn’t have to be like that (well, not the lycra part at least).
Exercise really can make a difference, not just to how to look and feel, but to the irritability, anxiety, anger and depression that are symptoms of PMS.
And once you’re out the door, you will start to feel better, I promise. The hardest part is often getting started – especially when you’re suffering from PMS-induced lethargy.
The Benefits of Exercise for Everyone
In case you need convincing about the benefits of exercise (whether you have PMS or not), how about if I told you that even moderate exercise – a little every day, a few longer sessions ever week, doing more as you build up stamina – gives you all these benefits and more:
- Strengthens muscles and bones
- Decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s
- Improves long-term memory
- Improves reasoning
- Regulates appetite
- Bolsters the immune system
- Helps you to solve problems
- Decreases your risk of diabetes
- Improves your fluid intelligence
- Reduces cholesterol
- Treats depression
- Cuts the risk of stroke
- Decreases the risk of heart diseases
There is now considerable scientific evidence to back up all these claims, and my thanks to Dr John Medina, molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School for that comprehensive rundown. Here’s a video of him talking about exercise being ‘the magic bullet’ (and practising what he preaches!).
As Dr Medina points out, to survive we had to move – not to sit at desks, on sofas, in cars as we do so much of the time nowadays. Our bodies are no longer doing what they were meant for, and as there is a strong connection between our bodies and our brains – “healthy body, healthy mind” – this has all sorts of repercussions.
The Benefits of Exercise for Women with PMS Symptoms
On top of all the general benefits of exercise, the most compelling one is that exercise alleviates the symptoms of PMS. As well as keeping you fit, exercise can actually give you energy when you most need it, and can distract you from negative and self-defeating thoughts and change your mood.
It is also particularly essential for women to prevent brittle bones and hip and wrist fractures in later life. So-called weight-bearing exercise, like walking, running or resistance training, prevents osteoporosis. That’s the long-term benefit.
In addition, the short-term benefit is that exercise simply makes you feel better, and that really helps to both prevent and reduce PMS.
It can also make you look better by building muscle in place of body fat, reducing bloating and boosting circulation. And looking better can in turn make you feel better – especially when PMS makes you feel self-critical and unattractive..
Exercise speeds up your metabolism, helping to control cravings. And let’s face it, you’re more likely to eat processed foods made up of simple carbohydrates, fat and sugar if you have PMS and deal with it you’re stewing at home in front of the TV rather than walking the dog or cycling to the shops.
Most importantly, exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins which improve your mood. Even moderate exercise, such as walking, has been shown to have a speedy and significanat effect on stress and depression.
I know some people find gyms soulless, competitive and intimidating, so don’t think you need to go to a gym to get your exercise fix. Walking, cycling or swimming outdoors feeds your mind as well as exercising your body, and leaves you feeling more energised than pounding on a treadmill. It’s good for your PMS, good for your body, and good for your soul.
But I’m Too Busy / Tired / Unfit / Embarrassed to Exercise!
You don’t have to be a triathlete or an Olympic swimmer to get the all-round health, performance, anti-ageing, and PMS benefits of exercise. You don’t have to belong to a gym, a club or a class (unless you want to). And you can call it being active rather than exercise if you prefer.
The key things for all women – but especially women who suffer from PMS – are to include:
- Regular activity. Little and often at first, and increase the intensity gradually rather than, say, throwing yourself into an unsustainable from 1 January!
- Aerobic activity It’s good to get a little puffed and a bit sweaty.
- Resistance / weight bearing activity (e.g. strengthening bones through using weights, or walking).
Exercise can be woven into your daily routine, so how about starting in a low key way by:
- Walking up stairs instead of talking the lift, or using the escalator
- Running around with your kids and their friends, playing football, games with balls
- Getting off the bus or train a stop or two early and walking
- Dancing! Whatever style appeals to you – alone in the kitchens with your headphones on, or try a salsa class or Zumba.
- Stretching, breathing. There’s a range of yoga classes out there to choose from which build strength and flexibility at the same time as teaching relaxation and meditation.
Some excellent guidelines about how much exercise to do – the Department of Health recommends 150 minutes a week for adults - is available from the NHS Live Well website, together with suggestions about different ways to exercise,
The key thing is to find something that you enjoy doing and go do it. Get a decent supportive bra so you can feel confident about striding along or bouncing up stairs. Find some friends company so you can motivate each other, or make some friends at classes and clubs. Listen to your body and ease yourself in gradually. Don’t overdo things and don’t get discouraged and curl up into a ball again.
Being inactive is not going to help your PMS, so keep reminding yourself that once you’re out the door and on the move, you’ll feel better. In fact, keep a note in your diary so that you can track how increasing your activity affects your PMS. I bet you’ll see a difference.
Enjoy the sense of achievement of having got moving and taken control over your PMS. Go on, get a wiggle on!