New Research Reveals 1 In 3 Women Have No Understanding Of Their Menstrual Cycle 

New research by PureGym has revealed a shocking lack of knowledge when it comes to the menstrual cycle, with one in three women (35%) admitting that they have no understanding of their cycle, the four phases within it, and how it can impact their daily life. 

With menstruation affecting around 26% of the population at any one time, PureGym wanted to understand how the menstrual cycle can impact a person’s exercise regime and nutrition, as well as how many could stand to benefit from a better understanding of how their bodies work.  

In collaboration with NHS GP Dr. Shireen, who helped to guide the research and provide her medical insight on the findings, more than 2,000 women were involved in the study which, alongside uncovering a distinct lack of education on the subject, highlights how many women are finding it hard to lead an active lifestyle due to their menstruation.  

The majority (62%) state that they have been forced to stop exercising due to symptoms from their cycle, with these severe symptoms lasting an average of 3 days. However, for almost a third (32%) of women that don’t currently exercise at all, their cycle is part of, if not the sole reason, that they don’t. This number gets even higher for women suffering from certain menstrual disorders, with 65% of those with endometriosis citing it as a reason they outright avoid exercise. 

The Benefits of Cycle Syncing

With regular exercise playing such a crucial role in both good physical and mental health, PureGym also sought to discover how women could improve their symptoms and work with their body to get back into exercise. While the research highlighted the importance of exercise itself, with 7 in 10 women saying exercise helps them to manage symptoms such as cramps, bloating and low mood, it was the practice of cycle-syncing that stood out. 

With each phase of the menstrual cycle coming with highs and lows in different hormones, each which present different challenges to the body, it’s no surprise that three quarters of women (76%) find it difficult to complete the same workout at various stages within their cycle. 

Rather than working against your body by completing the same workout throughout each phase, cycle-syncing focuses on having a greater understanding of the impact of each phase and planning your exercise accordingly. This helps to make the most of your abilities throughout the cycle and ensures your symptoms aren’t worsened by over-exertion, nor is your mood dampened further from a dissatisfying workout.

These cycle-syncing principles are backed up by Dr. Shireen, who states “people who do [sync their workouts to their cycle] 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 as to why their performance may be suboptimal compared to other parts of their cycle, so will be less hard on themselves.” 

For example, during the menstrual phase (days 1-7) levels of oestrogen and progesterone dip which can cause a decline in strength and endurance. Swapping running or a HIIT session for the likes of walking and yoga can have a positive impact on mood, reduce fatigue, and improve symptoms. Likewise, during the later stages of the follicular phase (approx. days 10-14) oestrogen levels surge and create an energy boost, making it a great time for higher energy workouts like strength training and HIIT.  

Of the women that do currently sync their workouts to their cycles, many state they have seen notable benefits, which importantly include being better able to manage their menstrual symptoms, and an improvement in mood. 

In addition to syncing workouts, the research also highlights the need to pay more attention to nutrition. 90% of women state that they find it hard to maintain a healthy diet during the entirety of their cycle, however the solution largely boils down to eating the right foods at the right time. 

As an example, Dr. Shireen pinpoints the luteal phase (days 14-28 of the cycle) as a time to focus on specific types of carbs, “The hormonal changes that occur during the luteal phase can increase cravings for high fat and high carbohydrate-based foods. Incorporating fibre rich carbohydrates such as sweet potato and butternut squash in the week before your period can help curb the cravings for processed carbohydrates like ice cream and chocolate! It’s definitely best to avoid going ‘low carb’ before your period too”. 

The Positive Impact of a More Connected Generation

While the dark side of social media often dominates headlines, it does appear to be having a positive impact when it comes to women’s health, with self-care and wellbeing regularly discussed online. On TikTok alone, videos focusing on cycle syncing have more than 130 million views. With 65% of 16-24 year old females syncing their workouts with their cycles compared to just 41% of women aged 25 and over, it’s clear that more visibility on the topic is helping women to learn more about their cycles.  

Even with more 16-24-year-olds in the know about their cycles (28% have no understanding versus the national average of 35%) hinting that education, supplemented by social media, is improving, Dr. Shireen feels there is still a long way to go until all women have the knowledge to manage their cycles, and adverse symptoms effectively. 

“The stigmas around menstruation are breaking, and it’s great to see that the younger generation potentially feel more comfortable talking about their periods and tracking them. However, it shouldn’t just be up to social media to take care of this education. Women’s health is still poorly taught in our schools and there is a huge gap in general knowledge around hormones, the menstrual cycle and how they impact our wider lives,” she said.

As the study shows, there is strong evidence to show that gentle exercise, along with other factors such as diet, a reduction in alcohol and stopping smoking, can help women to better manage their symptoms, with cycle-syncing helping to take the positives a step further. 

The data also shows that many women currently feel they cannot exercise and lead a healthier lifestyle due to the severity of their symptoms. Dr. Shireen urges any woman experiencing this, to speak to a doctor as soon as possible, so that you can receive the treatment required and begin to live with more freedom.

Najoua O’Dell, PureGym Regional Director and Senior Sponsor for PureGym’s Women’s Employee Network Group added:

“Both our own internal data, and industry research, show that women are less likely to exercise than men, and we were keen to understand how much of a role the menstrual cycle plays a part in this. Research shows there’s a lot to be done when it comes to educating the nation on menstrual health, and we hope that the resource we have created in conjunction with Dr Shireen will help anyone who menstruates to have a greater understanding of how to work with their cycle to achieve their health and fitness goals.”

To help more women to have a greater understanding of their cycle, exercise and nutrition, PureGym has compiled all of the findings and advice on their website. This includes example workouts and recipes for each phase of the cycle, in addition to tips from Dr. Shireen on how to prep for a GP appointment, if symptoms become a particular struggle. You can learn more by clicking HERE.

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