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1 in 3 women don’t understand their menstrual cycle, according to new research

The study was conducted in collaboration with NHS GP Dr Shireen, who helped to guide the research and provided her medical insight on the findings. Pictures: Supplied

The study was conducted in collaboration with NHS GP Dr Shireen, who helped to guide the research and provided her medical insight on the findings. Pictures: Supplied

Published Feb 3, 2023


A disturbing lack of information about the menstrual cycle has been highlighted by a new study from PureGym, with 35% of women admitting they don't know their cycle's four stages or how it might affect their everyday lives.

PureGym wanted to know how the menstrual cycle might affect a person's workout routine and diet, as well as how many people could stand to gain from having a better grasp of how their bodies function. Menstruation affects about 26% of the population at any given time.

More than 2 000 women participated in the study, which also revealed a clear lack of knowledge on the topic and highlighted how many women find it challenging to lead an active lifestyle due to their menstruation.

The study was conducted in collaboration with NHS GP Dr Shireen, who helped to guide the research and provided her medical insight on the findings.

The majority (62%) said that they were compelled to quit exercising because of severe symptoms related to their cycle, which lasted an average of three days.

However, for almost a third (32%) of women who don't exercise at all, their cycle is a contributing factor, if not the only one.

This percentage increases even more for women who experience specific menstrual conditions, with endometriosis accounting for 65% of those women's outright avoidance of exercise.

The Advantages of cycle-syncing

Since regular exercise is so important for maintaining both physical and emotional health, PureGym also looked for ways to help women feel better and work with their bodies to resume exercising.

While the research emphasised the value of exercise in and of itself – with seven in ten women reporting that it aids in the management of symptom,s including cramping, bloating and poor mood – cycle-synching stood out.

It's not surprising that three quarters of women (76%) find it challenging to complete the same workout at different times of their cycle because each phase of the menstrual cycle brings with it highs and lows in numerous hormones, each of which present new obstacles to the body.

Cycle-synching focuses on having a better grasp of the impact of each phase and arranging your exercise appropriately, as opposed to working against your body by performing the same activity throughout each phase.

This helps you make the most of your talents throughout the cycle and assures that neither an unsatisfactory workout nor excessive exertion will aggravate your symptoms.

Dr Shireen supports these cycle-synching ideas, saying that those who do so "are more likely to feel satisfied after their workouts because they won't have pushed themselves beyond their limits and will also have a better understanding of why their performance may be suboptimal compared to other parts of their cycle, so will be less hard on themselves".

For instance, levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop throughout the menstrual period (days 1–7), which might result in a loss of strength and endurance. Walking and yoga can be substituted for running or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions to relieve symptoms, lift weariness, and boost mood. The follicular phase's latter phases (about days 10–14) are also when oestrogen levels peak and give you an energy boost, making them ideal for higher-intensity exercises such as strength training and HIIT.

Many of the women who now time their workouts to their cycles report having noticed noticeable advantages, which significantly include improved mood and greater ability to handle menstruation discomfort.

The study also emphasises the need to pay closer attention to diet in addition to coordinating exercises. About 90% of women say it's challenging to keep up a balanced diet during their cycle, but the key to success is eating the right things at the appropriate times.

For instance, according to Dr Shireen, the luteal phase (days 14–28 of the cycle) is a time to concentrate on particular kinds of carbohydrates because of hormonal changes that occur during this period.

The week before your period, try consuming fibre-rich carbs such as sweet potato and butternut squash to help reduce your cravings for refined carbohydrates such as ice cream and chocolate. Avoid going "low carb" just before your period, for sure.

While social media's negative aspects frequently make the news, it appears to be benefiting women's health as self-care and wellbeing are topics that are frequently addressed online.

Videos about cycle synching have received more than 130 million views on TikTok alone. It is evident that more awareness of the issue is assisting women in learning more about their periods because 65% of girls aged 16 to 24 align their exercises with their cycles, compared to just 41% of females aged 25 and above.

Dr Shireen believes there is still a long way to go before all women have the information to manage their periods and unfavourable symptoms successfully, even if a higher percentage of 16 to 24 year olds are aware of their cycles.

The taboos around menstruation are fading, and it's encouraging to see that the younger generation feel more at ease discussing and keeping track of their cycles.

Najoua O'Dell, regional director for PureGym and senior sponsor for PureGym's Women Employee Network Group, said: "We were interested in learning how much the menstrual cycle contributes to women's lower likelihood of exercising than men, based on our own internal data and industry research.

"We believe the resource we have developed with Dr Shireen will assist anyone who menstruates in having a better understanding of how to work with their cycle to achieve their health and fitness goals. Our research indicates that there is much work to be done when it comes to educating the country on menstrual health.“