Women's Fitness: Menstrual Cycles, Pregnancy And Exercise

Women's Fitness: Menstrual Cycles, Pregnancy And Exercise


Many women are forced to deal with certain situations that are unique to females. Menstruation, pregnancy and post-partum conditions are all serious considerations that need to be addressed in the context of exercise and activity.

Exercise and Menstrual Cycles

Many women report changes in their ability to handle physical exercise during their menstrual cycles. There seems to be considerable individual variability in this matter. Some report a great deal of difficulty during their pre-flow and initial flow phases, while others seem to experience no noticeable alterations in their physical performance ability. One should pay close attention to her body's reaction to physical exercise during such times and adjust her activity level accordingly.

Menstrual irregularities may sometimes occur in response to heavy amounts of intensive training or excessively lean body composition. Missed menstrual cycles are most common in young women and girls who are involved in particularly heavy amounts of physical training and competition. Such training often includes sports like ice-skating, ballet, gymnastics, cycling, and distance running.

Abnormally infrequent or scanty menses have been associated with heavy amounts of exercise, low body fat levels, hormonal changes, and even acute levels of stress.

About 20% of female athletes report an incidence of this condition, compared to approximately 5% of the general female population. Indeed, the incidence seems greatest in women who spend many hours training at high intensities, day in and day out.

Those women experiencing abnormal menstrual cycles should not assume that it is due to the above factors. It is important to see a physician in order to rule out other possibilities, such as medical problems or pregnancy.

Exercise and Pregnancy

Women who continue their exercise programs during pregnancy often report greater feelings of confidence before and after labor due to their endurance levels. However, pregnancy is a serious consideration in relation to exercise and activity. The primary goal for a program during pregnancy should be to maintain the highest fitness level possible that is consistent with the greatest safety for both the baby and the expectant mother.

Pregnancy is not the time to try and get in shape or improve one's fitness with strenuous regimens. Both active and previously sedentary women should seek qualified medical advice concerning exercise during pregnancy. Exercise and pregnancy are sometimes not the best of combinations. Medical conditions like CHD, respiratory disease, infection, anemia and other disease states often preclude exercise during pregnancy. In addition, poor obstetrical history, or current obstetrical complications combined with an exercise regimen may compromise the health of the expectant mother and the fetus.

It is important to take an individualized approach to a pregnancy exercise program. Health status, occupational and social schedules, lifestyle and dietary habits, as well as personal preferences, must all be considered in the design of such a regimen. It is essential that you consult with your physician concerning the specifics of any exercise program during pregnancy.

Some of the basic guidelines concerning exercise during pregnancy include the following:

  • Try to keep exercise regular and consistent, at least three times a week
  • Increase hydration levels considerably throughout the day-especially during exercise
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol, and drugs
  • Take your increased resting heart rate into account when exercising, the heart rate for pregnant women is often 10-15 beats greater per minute
  • Avoid exercising in hot weather as an excessive rise in body temperature can be dangerous to the fetus
  • Avoid ballistic, jolting, or bouncing movements
  • Do not try to achieve extreme stretching positions
  • Always engage in a minimum 5-10 minute warm-up before exercise and a gradual cool-down period with easy, static stretching
  • Wear proper exercise clothes; avoid tight elastic around legs, choose footwear that provides sufficient support, etc.
  • Avoid use of hot tubs or saunas
  • If you feel peculiar or unusual at any time during exercise, stop activity and see your doctor immediately

In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have made the following recommendations concerning exercise during pregnancy:

  • Do not exercise in a supine position following the fourth month of pregnancy
  • Do not continue any strenous activity levels for more than fifteen minutes in duration
  • Avoid heart rate counts above 140 beats per minute; you should consult with your doctor concerning the specifics of your situation
  • Avoid holding your breath during exercise, often termed the Valsalva maneuver
  • Keep maternal core temperature less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Adjust your caloric intake to account for both the pregnancy and the exercise costs Suitable Activities for Expectant Mothers

Generally speaking, the following activities are often considered safe for pregnant women. Always seek your doctor's advice concerning each activity of interest and make sure of its safety and suitability to your individual circumstances:

  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Resistance training
  • Calisthenics
  • Static stretching
  • Aqua aerobics
  • Cross-country skiing/simulator

Alternatively, the following activities are often considered dangerous for pregnant exercisers:

  • Contact sports
  • Downhill skiing
  • Water skiing
  • Scuba diving
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Horseback riding

As stated previously, exercise and pregnancy can have some very beneficial results. Yet, if certain precautions or adjustments are not made, there is considerable risk to both the expectant mother and the unborn child.

The post-partum female will also need to make certain adjustments concerning her condition and its relationship to exercise.

Fitness Facts urges both pregnant and post-partum women to consult their physician before engaging in any type of exercise or physical activity program.

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