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Fighting Period Fatigue

IMAGE Last month, on the day my period started, I had a few cramps, felt a little bloated, was slightly irritable, and noticed a lovely little pimple just to the left of center on my forehead. On most days, making all that go away (except the pimple) would be as easy as going out for a run. But on that day, lacing up my sneakers was too daunting. I felt exhausted, and gearing up for a workout seemed incredibly difficult. So I skipped the run—and didn’t feel better until the next day.

Why So Tired?

I didn’t think much about why I felt too tired to exercise that day, but if you have ever experienced something similar, there may be an explanation. A study from the University of Adelaide in Australia suggests that the phenomenon is quite real and probably related to hormone levels, which vary dramatically throughout the course of the menstrual cycle.
According to the study, exercise is most difficult from approximately three days prior to beginning the menstrual period to ovulation. During this time, two of the principle menstrual cycle hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are very low.
Authors believed that these hormones may influence the body’s energy metabolism at rest and during exercise. They suggested that when these hormone levels are low, women may end up contending with more waste products—such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide—from the metabolic consumption of carbohydrates, which can contribute to muscle soreness and premature fatigue.

Testing Their Theory

In the study, a group of women went through the same exercises at different points during their menstrual cycles. Although the women completed the same exercise test in both phases of the menstrual cycle, the exercise test conducted at the beginning of the month took longer to complete and the women reported feeling more physically and mentally fatigued at this time point.

Exercise Could Help (If You Weren’t So Tired)

The fact that hormone levels may lead to difficulty with exercise during the menstrual period is unfortunate. Exercise is a good remedy for the symptoms many women encounter before and during their periods. Exercise can improve your mood, increase your metabolism, and help reduce bloating. In addition, he American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises women to exercise to help alleviate menstrual cramps.
According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, all adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity each week, which amounts to 30 minutes a day.

What About Your Diet?

If period fatigue is in fact a result of low levels of estrogen and progesterone leading to poor metabolism of carbohydrates, then limiting your intake of simple carbohydrates like refined sugars just before and during your period may help combat the fatigue. Also, limiting salt may help reduce bloating and limiting caffeine might help with irritability.
There are also nutritional supplements that can help with premenstrual syndrome symptoms:
  • Calcium can reduce pain, cramping, and mood swings
  • Magnesium can reduce headache, fluid retention, and mood changes
  • Vitamin E can help with breast tenderness

Medication May Help

Every woman's menstrual cycle is different. Track your symptoms over time to learn your specific patterns and share them with your physician if you are concerned. If you have severe symptoms and fatigue before and during your period, even after incorporating lifestyle changes, there are medicines that might help. Talk to your doctor about your options.

RESOURCES

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists http://www.acog.org/

American College of Sports Medicine http://www.acsm.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada http://www.sogc.org

Women's Health Matters http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca/

References

2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/default.aspx. Accessed August 30, 2012.

Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed August 30, 2012.

Menstruation. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq049.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120830T1947542351

Premenstrual syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 14, 2012. Accessed September 4, 2012.

Redman L. Effects of phase of the menstrual cycle on exercise capacity in young, sedentary women. European College of Sport Science Annual Conference. Athens, Greece; July 2002.

Vitamins and supplements for menstrual relief. Epigee website. Available at: http://www.epigee.org/vitamins.html. Accessed August 30, 2012.

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