PCOS & Exercise
Getting active and following a healthy lifestyle regimen can be tough, especially for women with conditions like PCOS that can hinder motivation. Fortunately, exercise has more benefits than gaining muscle or losing weight. Working out can actually help alleviate and treat symptoms of PCOS. Different types of exercise impact PCOS in unique ways, which gives women a plethora of options to work with in order to feel good and treat their condition.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder that affects women and causes a hormone imbalance. Symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain, hair thinning, acne, and difficulty getting pregnant. Many women experience elevated serum androgens and insulin resistance.
Exercise as Medicine
Depending on the type, intensity, and length of an exercise, certain hormone levels can be altered to a point where symptoms decrease. It has been shown that any type of physical movement is favorable when treating PCOS, which is why so many doctors prescribe exercise as a leading treatment mechanism . Here are a few types of exercises and their benefits for PCOS symptoms::
Endurance exercises like running, jogging, and swimming promote cardiovascular health. A 3-month study showed that 30 minutes of cycling (3x/week) decreased fasting insulin . Intense aerobic activity can reduce androgen levels and improve metabolism .
HIIT and combination exercise
High-Intensity Interval Training led to improvements in fasting insulin and proved to be a great tool in weight management. This type of exercise can also reduce fat mass and lower BMI.
Resistance and Strength Training
Strength training can lower testosterone, the contributor to symptoms like acne and hair loss. Free androgen levels and prolactin are reduced as well. This form of exercise also improves the cardiometabolic states of women with PCOS to help prevent diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension .
This highly meditative practice helps lower total testosterone, luteinizing hormone, fasting insulin, and anti-Mullerian hormones. While the research on yoga to treat PCOS symptoms remains minimal, it is no secret that this exercise is exceptionally beneficial for our mental health. Low-intensity workouts like yoga decrease the risk of rising stress hormone levels.
Tips for Incorporating Exercise into a PCOS lifestyle :
- Try everything and see what works! Exercise is not one-size-fits-all. Luckily, there are countless ways to get moving and feel healthier. Managing PCOS is stressful in itself, so forming an exercise regimen should be a positive change, not something to dread. There are ways to relieve symptoms through mindful movement whether that means a long walk, resistance training, or yoga. Find a groove with an exercise routine you love, and it will become a positive aspect of life with PCOS.
- Keep your diet in mind. With the research on the impacts of exercise and PCOS, it is important to remember our bodies need a sustainable diet before and after physical activity. Pairing a good workout schedule with a healthy diet will only speed up the healing process! Diet and movement go hand in hand to form positive lifestyle changes.
- You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to see results. Something important to note about any intense workout is that too much of it can increase cortisol, the hormone that controls blood sugar and metabolism. This can end up having the opposite effect on PCOS symptoms and begin to increase insulin resistance. So, balance is key! Many women with PCOS are advised to engage in at least 3 30-minute sessions of movement per week.
- Don’t forget about your mental health! It can be so easy to get lost in dieting and exercising that we forget to check in on our mental state. Keep in mind that stress is also a contributor to PCOS symptoms. Exercise is a phenomenal way to reduce stress levels, but everyone needs rest. A good balance of movement and relaxation will give your body and your brain the best results.