Here’s How Changes in Your Hormones Can Affect Your Workouts—At Every Stage

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At any given point in your life, you could be experiencing some kind of hormone fluctuation—particularly if you are so lucky as to have a uterus. From periods to family planning and birth control changes to menopause, it’s a roller coaster of estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormones, and more.

It’s important to know more about where your hormones are at (and what they’re up to) for a number of reasons, not least because it can impact your workouts. OB/GYN Jasmine Pedroso, MD MPH, FACOG from the Kindbody clinic in San Francisco, shared some intel about these different fluctuations, and what you can do about them to have a safe and effective workout.

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Her biggest piece of advice? Tune in. “During any of these changes in our bodies, it is important to listen to how our bodies are feeling, and to then give our body what it might be asking for,” she says. “It’s great to push ourselves to be active, as there are many benefits to exercise, but it's also okay—and encouraged—to take time to rest and rejuvenate.”

The change: menstruation

What happens: You’re tired! You probably know many of the effects of PMS and menstrual fatigue, but here’s what’s going on behind the scenes: “During a period, your estrogen and progesterone levels are lowest—this can make you feel more fatigued, slower,” says Dr. Pedroso. That lethargy is real, physiologically-backed, and worth paying attention to.

What to do about it: You don’t have to cancel class, but you may want to stick to only a quick sweat sesh. “During a menstrual cycle, especially on your heaviest days, it might be a good idea to shorten your workouts or even take a day or two of rest,” she suggests. Also, there’s something to be said for NSAIDS. “Taking medication like ibuprofen or Tylenol, or using a heating pad during this time can also help decrease the extra period-related discomfort you might feel during your workouts.”

Stick to a 10-minute session with this quick full-body Pilates routine:

The change: fertility treatments

What happens: Whether you’re freezing your eggs or trying IVF, there are extreme changes to hormone levels during this time, and it’s especially important to be mindful of how that impacts your body when it comes to exercise. “During the hormone stimulation phase of egg freezing and IVF, the ovaries become very swollen and your hormone levels surge,” says Dr. Pedroso. “This makes it not only difficult to exercise due to bloating and fatigue, but also makes it dangerous due to the risks of the swollen ovaries twisting and potentially twisting off their blood supplies.” (Scary!) This is why doctors recommend women abstain from any strenuous physical activity—including sex—during this time.

What to do about it: Well, no HIIT workouts for starters (protect your ovaries!). Switch to very low-key, low-impact stuff. “During the hormone stimulation phase, and until you are fully recovered from fertility treatment, focus on walking and light upper body exercises,” she says. Keep it gentle, and go easy on yourself. If you work with a trainer, talk to them about what you’re going through so they can factor that in.

Go gentle on yourself with a chair yoga session:

The change: pregnancy

What happens: Hello, ch-ch-changes, and hello, shortness of breath! “The hormone changes in pregnancy as well as the higher oxygen demand on the body can certainly make you feel more short of breath and lightheaded during workouts,” says Dr. Pedroso. “The hormone changes can also make your ligaments more relaxed and so you may be more vulnerable to injuries and strains.”

What to do about it: While you’re growing a human (or two or more) inside your abdomen, you definitely still can—and should!—keep your body moving. “In pregnancy, women are definitely encouraged to continue to work out,” she says. But there’s an asterisk here: “Your body may not tolerate all the things it used to prior to pregnancy. Be flexible in your workout routines, listen to your body, play it by ear, and be gentle.” Again, this is a good time to let your trainer or instructor know about this bodily change so they can ensure you have a safe workout.

Looking for prenatal-friendly options? Try this low-impact barre workout:

The change: menopause

What happens: Similar to menstruation, menopause can cause fatigue—but for different reasons. “The decreased estrogen levels that we experience in menopause can cause decreased restful sleep due to hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, emotionality. This can cause stamina, strength, and energy to decrease,” says Dr. Pedroso. Don’t give up, though! “It is important that we still continue to exercise due to its many health benefits.”

What to do about it: While menopause can be a challenging time, it’s possibly the most exciting of this group when it comes to exercise—you get to add some things in. “Menopause is a great time to focus on weight training and strengthening exercises,” she says. Think: Pilates, free weights, strength training. These exercises “can help to prevent the bone loss that can come with menopause,” says Dr. Pedroso.

Work on your back and core strength with Nike trainer Traci Copeland:

The change: life

What happens: A shockingly large number of factors can contribute to hormonal changes and imbalances. Think: dietary shifts, medication, changing birth control, stress, illness, injury, and more. These changes can affect different hormones in different ways. For instance, stress can increase progesterone and lower estrogen levels, while a dietary adjustment could have the exact opposite effect, lowering progesterone and increasing estrogen.

What to do about it: This is an incredibly nuanced topic that varies from person to person, case to case, so it’s imperative to heed Dr. Pedroso’s first bit of advice: Listen to your body. Pay attention to your mood, skin, weight, and energy levels, and keep up with regular visits to your physician. It can feel daunting to advocate for your health, but you’ve got this!

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