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30 Mar, 2024

The amazing benefits of low impact movement on hormonal health

We gain massive health benefits from yoga and low-impact movement at all life stages and hormonal phases. As we connect our mind and body, we boost our energy and lift our mood. Our increased heart rate provides cardiovascular and aerobic benefits in an ideal ‘fat-burning’ zone. There’s enormous capacity to improve strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance. Low-impact training reduces stress on our muscles, tendons and joints and lessens our risk of injury. We can also move our bodies more consistently, with less need for rest days. We spoke to Laura Dodd, founder of The Yoga Class Co to discuss the amazing benefits of movement and cycle-syncing on hormone health, for women of all ages.

Health

As well as the physical benefits, low-impact movement actively reduces cortisol and therefore, stress. Our bodies can better regulate themselves, helping us to feel more relaxed, enhance sleep quality and increase energy levels. In turn, this can boost our overall hormonal health, particularly as high cortisol is linked to lower oestrogen levels. Oestrogen levels maintain the reproductive system and regulate menstruation, so low oestrogen can cause weight gain, irregular periods, fatigue, low mood and other issues pre-menopause.

The Menstrual Cycle

If we consider this synergy between movement and the menstrual cycle in more detail, it can help us understand how to enhance our general health. Because it is widely accepted that as we move across the four different phases of the cycle, we can feel significant shifts in our energy levels, mental health, libido or skin condition. So, it is important to understand cycle dates and phases. But your emotional and physical symptoms are also indicative of hormonal health and can help us to understand why we might feel perhaps more anxious or more creative. With understanding comes empowerment, improving our ability to tailor our environment and exercise plans for each stage of our cycle.

Oestrogen, Progesterone, FSH and LH are the hormones that control the menstrual cycle, and in turn, affect our sleep, appetite, stress and energy.

Tracking our cycle can lead to more targeted movement, but, we should also be listening to how our body feels. It’s so important to do the right thing for your body and mind. We are all different and you know yourself best! This is The Yoga Class guide, based on average cycles and suggested training forms and methods.

The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase usually lasts around half of the overall cycle. If you have an average 28-day cycle, this is around 14-days, from around the first day of your period until ovulation. FSH is produced in this phase due to low levels of oestrogen and progesterone. The lining of the uterus grows thicker and , the follicles mature, triggering a rise in the production of oestrogen. This can mean more energy, fuller breasts, increased libido, and potential migraines.

Oestrogen is anabolic. In this phase, it becomes easier to build lean muscle, to access energy to burn, and to recover more easily and quickly. It is an ideal time to work towards a challenge, perhaps trying something new, with higher intensity and playful workouts.

This could mean HIIT for some people, but we recommend a low-impact, high-intensity workout like Barre, Power Pilates, or Yoga Conditioning. Build strength, lean muscle and endurance to capitalise on the conditions of this phase.

“In the Follicular phase, it becomes easier to build lean muscle, to access energy to burn, and to recover more easily and quickly. It is an ideal time to work towards a challenge, perhaps trying something new, with higher intensity and playful workouts.”

The Ovulation Phase

Ovulation happens around day 12-15 (if you have an average 28-day cycle). The ovary releases a mature egg by producing so much oestrogen that it triggers the pituitary gland to release LH, which frees the egg. It takes around 24 hours for the egg to travel down the tube into the uterus and it survives for the same amount of time. This short phase usually lasts for around 3-4 days.

Our bodies have a similar mix of hormones to the follicular phase. With high levels of oestrogen, we tend to retain our high-energy. We are again more able to build strength and lean muscle. Whilst we still recommend higher intensity training, it is also important to pay attention to how your body feels; it has been shown that your neuromuscular control can decrease and your risk of injury can heighten. Mostly, we can continue working at the same intensity as during the follicular phase, whilst staying with training we feel comfortable with.

Again, we recommend a low-impact, high-intensity workout like Barre, Power Pilates or Yoga Conditioning to maximise on energy levels and build lean muscle.

The Luteal Phase

The luteal phase starts when the egg has been released during ovulation, which is usually around 14-days before your period starts. This the longest phase, stretching from around day 15--28 (based on an average 28-day cycle). The egg leaves its shell behind, which starts to produce progesterone helping the uterus lining mature. At around day 21, progesterone production starts to decrease; oestrogen and progesterone are now so low that the uterus lining breaks down, i.e. your period. During the first half of this phase, you may feel close to the energy peak of the follicular phase, but this will start to decline in the latter half.

This is also when you may start to experience PMS (as 80% of women do). Low progesterone levels contribute to irritation, agitation, low mood and energy. We may feel less motivated to exercise and an increase in body temperature can have an impact on our training.

It is shown that gentle strength work, such as yoga or Pilates, and low-intensity cardio training, such as walking, swimming or cycling, has the most positive effect on reducing the symptoms of this phase. Scale back training for a stronger focus on recovery. We recommend a gentle vinyasa yoga or a slow flow yoga session to gently build strength and mobility. Focus on calming your mind and reducing anxiety.

“It is shown that gentle strength work, such as yoga or Pilates, and low-intensity cardio training, such as walking, swimming or cycling, has the most positive effect on reducing the symptoms of PMS and other Luteal phase symptoms. Scale back training for a stronger focus on recovery.”

The Menstruation Phase

The first day of your period is the first day of your menstrual cycle. This is also the first day of the follicular phase. This stage lasts for 3-7 days on average, but this can vary significantly.

You may experience cramping and discomfort - exercise has been linked to less painful periods. But with less energy, motivation, reduced stamina and strength levels, low-intensity cardio or low-intensity low-impact exercise, such as a gentle yoga or Pilates flows, can be beneficial.

We recommend a stretch yoga, recovery, or breath-work session to calm, breathe and relax any discomfort away.

“There are countless benefits to switching up your exercise plan to match your cycle phase. Above all, the body is more responsive and will feel better at each stage. By tracking your cycle, energy and emotional state, you can make better decisions for your body.”

The Perimenopause and Menopause

Unfortunately, 84% of women aged 50-80, report that menopausal symptoms interfere with their day-to-day life, however movement and meditation practices can help!

When the body goes through the menopause transition, your ovaries stop producing oestrogen, which leads to symptoms such as hot flashes, anxiety, low mood, sleep disturbance and brain fog, as well as increasing your risk for heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis.

Add to that, the decrease in muscle mass we experience after the age of 30 (approximately 3-8% per decade). To combat this and improve metabolism, we recommend short blasts of weight or resistance training up to 3x week. Training in this way helps to build muscle and prevents musculoskeletal issues. The key is to start with a light weight/ resistance and build upwards gradually.

Our lower oestrogen levels create a significantly higher risk for heart disease. Cardio exercise that increases your heart rate and blood flow can decrease this risk, as well as help with brain fog, overall mood, and sleep.

Yoga carries huge benefits at any life stage, but during the menopause our yoga practice can help lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease. The even weight distribution of yoga from all angles improves bone density and strength.

Breath-work and more meditative practices are also extremely important during this time, due to the cortisol reducing, and therefore stress and anxiety busting, benefits. This type of practice may also help you deal with hot flashes more comfortably by improving tolerance, symptoms of depression, low mood, and poor quality of sleep.

Our aim should be to move through a variety of low-impact exercises daily, such as yoga, swimming, and walking, interjected with cardio and weight training blasts around 4x a week. We have included a range of sessions to give you a taster of beneficial movement and meditation. A comprehensive exercise programme through the menopausal and postmenopausal years is proven to help maintain a healthy body, bone density levels and good mental health.

“Unfortunately, 84% of women aged 50-80, report that menopausal symptoms interfere with their day-to-day life, however movement and meditation practices can help! We recommend a variety of low-impact exercise such as yoga, swimming, and walking, interjected with cardio and weight training blasts around 4x a week.”