Expert weighs in on the importance of exercise for women’s mental health and menstruation challenges

Getting in more excercise will go a long way towards turning the tide on our unhealhty lifestyles. Picture:

Getting in more excercise will go a long way towards turning the tide on our unhealhty lifestyles. Picture:

Published Mar 8, 2024


Women across the globe often experience mood swings, low energy levels and a lack of motivation during their monthly menstrual cycles.

Experts explained that this could be due to the lack of dopamine production during this time of the month for women, which is caused by low levels of oestrogen and progesterone before they start their period.

With International Women's Day being commemorated on Friday, sport and exercise science specialist, Rowan Cooke, said that exercise could have profound benefits for women, physically and mentally, during menstruation.

“Being a woman can be an emotional roller coaster, with female hormones changing four times per month, leaving different reactions and impacts on the body,” he said.

“However, it is scientifically proven that exercise can combat these reactions.”

Cooke added that during an exercise session, a sudden “high” similar to a mood swing is experienced.

“This is down to the brain releasing a ‘feel-good chemical’ known as dopamine.”

He explained that dopamine was a chemical messenger that carried signals controlling mental and emotional responses in the brain.

“Therefore, whenever we exercise, our brains release happy hormones.”

Exercise offers women a range of benefits. File image.

Meanwhile, new research also revealed that exercise could be more beneficial for women than men.

A study conducted by The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and involving more than 400,000 adults aged between 27-61, discovered that women who exercised were 24% less likely than those who did not, to experience death from any cause.

In contrast, men who exercised were found to be 15% less likely.

The research also revealed that women also had a 36% reduced risk for a fatal heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event, while men had a 14% reduced risk.

Cooke said that exercise was extremely beneficial for women for several reasons.

“Women find their metabolism decreases as they age, so exercise is important for promoting circulation, lowering blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight,” he said.

He added that hormones also played a huge part in a woman's life and that many women were unaware that exercise could help regulate hormonal balance, including oestrogen and progesterone levels.

“Being hormonally balanced can have a positive effect on menstrual health, fertility and menopausal symptoms,” he said.

“Not only that, exercise helps to release dopamine, which helps with pain control and mood stabilisation.”

Cooke added that the best way to increase dopamine levels was by exercising regularly with low-impact workouts.

The fitness expert highlighted the best exercises to help keep dopamine levels boosted and to combat any physical or mental challenges:


Walking is a great way to increase dopamine levels. He also believes that taking different and scenic routes during each walk can help to increase dopamine levels and keep the brain stimulated.

“Try to walk in the sunlight if you can because when your skin absorbs sunlight and produces vitamin D, this cycle can promote the production of dopamine and serotonin.”

He recommended walking at a good pace, around 100-150 minutes per week.

“You can also add some music to your walk to increase dopamine levels,” he said.


While this form of exercise is focused on relaxation techniques and stretching certain parts of the body, yoga can also boost dopamine levels by increasing cardio-respiratory output.

“These breathing exercises boost mood and enhance communication between the brain and nervous system,” said Cooke.

Weight lifting

Weight lifting is a great mood booster because it produces a sense of accomplishment.

“As you start lifting light and become stronger and increase your weight, dopamine levels will kick in due to a sense of achievement,” said Cooke.

He suggested trying to lift weights three to four times per week, with essential rest days in between, and the target of slightly increasing your weights every two to three weeks.


While it can be seen as a higher-intensity sport, Cooke believes that swimming is great for boosting dopamine.

“This is because it can increase the number of certain neurotransmitters in your brain.”

He added that immersing yourself in cold water stimulates instant endorphins, due to the extreme temperature.

“If cold plunges aren’t for you, around 30 minutes of swimming in water at room temperature is a significant stimulus for endorphin and dopamine release.”