How to Track Your Cycle for Optimum Health
Says ABC chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, “For anyone who understands the complexities of women’s health, the fact there can be fluctuations in physical or mental stamina, or changes in sleep or dietary behaviors corresponding to changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle come as no surprise. The fact is, female athletes are biologically, hormonally and physically different, and the sooner that reality is embraced instead of resisted, the more potential exists for that athlete to optimize her training behaviors.”
During a woman’s monthly cycle, energy ebbs and flows (haha), so it just makes sense that your activities should also change and adjust depending on where you’re at in those phases.
Rest Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
In Chinese medicine, it’s said that excessive exercise, especially during adolescence, can damage the vessels that govern menstruation (Spleen, Kidneys, Liver, and the Conception and Penetrating Meridians). Damage at this time can lead to stagnant blood and painful periods in the future.
Other vulnerable times to not over-exercise or over-exert yourself are when you’re menstruating, during pregnancy, and post-partum.
It’s not that you can’t exercise or move around (you should), but it’s about balance.
As a woman is heading toward menopause, working too much or exercising too much, too hard, or too often can lead to heavy periods and menopausal problems.
It boils down to this: rest as much as possible the first 3 days of menstruation; slowly amp things back up as you’re approaching ovulation; if you’re feeling OK, ovulation is a good time to go for personal goals, “creativity,” and “go hard in the paint,” as they say; and as you approach menstruation again, start to ease it back down.
It sounds easy enough, but I’ve been actively trying to figure this out for years. Especially since I just had my 45th birthday. Some lessons are harder to learn than others, I guess. I hate sitting still. I’ve learned that unless I want to bleed to death, sometimes I need a break.
3 things to watch for so you know when it’s time to rest.
1. New injuries not healing as fast as you would expect.
3. Tension – trouble sleeping, irritability, and tension that accompanies extreme fatigue. (NOTE: This is true only if you’ve been exercising regularly before the tension started. If you’re not exercising and feel tension, that could be your cue to exercise more.)
Not the same as soreness from exercise, but overall tension, especially if you suspect it’s due to your hormones adjusting, take some time to rest.
As you’re nearing menopause, the tension can start to happen more regularly. An herb I love for this problem is called Wild Yam, which is a natural source of progesterone.
For younger women who feel PMS tension, you can try an herb called Chaste Tree or Vitex Berry. This herb also helps you sleep more soundly. Men can take it for this purpose as well.
What does a rest day or week entail?
Don’t completely stop moving, but take it down a notch. Relax and have more fun with your movements. I like to go out dancing or just dance at home the week before my cycle.
Pro tip: dancing, especially hip circling, is the BEST cure for menstrual cramps.
Also OK – walking, stretching. Basically, just do what feels good to your body.
You may need just a couple days off, or just the first 3 days of your cycle.
If the imbalance has become an out-of-control monster, try a whole week off from exercise. It’s challenging to do nothing, for those of us accustomed to regular exercise, but it’s just as important as the exercise itself.
The key to having peaceful periods, is finding that balance in your body between high energy, extroversion, and productivity vs staying in, keeping warm, and slowly savoring a bowl of soup.
If fertility is your aim, this is doubly important for you. Obviously, you’re not fertile every day of the month. So when you’re not fertile, rest. Nourish yourself. Move your body how you want to move. When your energy goes back up again, and it will, go with that when it happens.
I’ve had some months where the week before my period I have tons of energy, and working out really hard feels right. Other months I’m exhausted that week, so I do my regular routine or even go a little bit lighter than normal.
My regular exercise routine is, for one week: 1 day of yoga (a 1-hour, advanced, hot yoga session), 5-10 hours of dance (classes, home workouts, and going out to dance events), and 1-2 hours of recovery work (rolling, active stretching and strengthening). I write out my weekly exercise schedule on a notepad so I remember what I’m doing on which days because it changes by the week.
Every week I take at least 2 days off to do pretty much nothing, other than walk my dog. Every 2 or 3 months I find that I need a whole week off to do nothing. And for some of us, that’s the most challenging.
How about you? Have you tried tracking your cycle before and adjusting your workouts accordingly? Let me know in the comments.
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