September is PCOS Awareness Month. But what is PCOS and what does exercise have to do with it?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is an endocrine disorder where there is an imbalance of reproductive hormones in the body. This can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain, fatigue, acne, hair loss, unwanted hair growth, infertility, low mood, anxiety and depression, bloating and digestive issues.
PCOS affects 1 in 10 women. However, it is estimated that more than 50% of women with PCOS are not properly diagnosed, leaving millions of women living with symptoms that go unsupported and diagnosed.
So where does exercise come in?
There isn’t much research into the specific kind of exercise that is beneficial for PCOS. However, a combination of strength and aerobic training has be shown to assist with the symptoms of PCOS. Lifestyle modifications such as nutrition and exercise have been shown to decrease fasting insulin levels as well as improve sex hormones. If we can manage insulin, we are better able to manage testosterone, the cause of a lot of PCOS symptoms.
How much exercise should I be doing?
Women suffering from PCOS should aim for:
- 20-40 minutes of moderate activity per day
- At least 2x strength and resistance training sessions per week
- Increasing their incidental activity and reducing inactivity
What exercise should I do?
Moderate exercise like brisk walking, jogging, cycling or swimming can assist with PCOS management by reducing insulin resistance, stabilising mood and boosting fertility. Doing 30 minutes or more a day can also help with weight management, mental health, and improving frequency of menstrual cycles and ovulation.
Resistance training can improve the function of insulin in your body, increase metabolic rate and improve body composition by increasing lean muscle mass and reducing fat tissue. By boosting your metabolism, you’ll be able to build more muscle mass which can lead to more calories burnt during exercise and rest! Combining strength training with cardiovascular exercise is the best way to ensure you’re maintaining a healthy body weight and reducing your risk of chronic diseases including Type 2 Diabetes.
High Intensity Interval Training
By incorporating intervals of short bouts of high intensity work with lower intensity recovery, you can improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce waist circumference. This time efficient exercise routine can help you achieve a 5-10% weight loss, which research has shown can decrease PCOS symptoms through the reduction of excess testosterone and improving insulin resistance.
Core Strength and Stability
Ensuring strong and stable core muscles is essential to maintaining general well-being, preparing your body for pregnancy and improving mental health. Avoiding lower back pain and improving posture can be achieved through Pilates based exercises and core specific training. These muscles support the spine and activating them can reduce risk of injury during exercise.
The bottom line!
The most effective exercise is the one you commit to and enjoy doing! Everyone is different, so every exercise program needs to be unique. At Move EP, we can provide a tailored exercise program as well as lifestyle advice and support specific to your conditions and goals. Ask Millie, our exercise physiologist with additional training in Women’s Health, how exercise can manage your PCOS!
By Millie Christou