Menstrual Concerns Shouldn't Stop Walkers

Don't Skip Exercise During Your Period

Honolulu Marathon
A running skirt might be a good choice when menstruating. Marco Garcia/Getty Images Sport

Bloating, menstrual cramps, the inconvenience of needing tampons and pads—all of these can trip up women and keep them from walking during their menstrual periods. It's time to start believing those feminine hygiene product ads—you really can go walking, riding, biking, and swimming during your menstrual days.

Why You Should Keep Walking During Your Period

It is harder to get out the door or on the treadmill for your walking workout when you are having menstrual cramps, bloating, and other effects.

But a few minutes after warming up, it is likely you will feel better (or at least not any worse). If you make yourself stick to your workout schedule, you won't have regrets or lose the fitness gains you have made. Even if your walk is slower and shorter than usual, it's still physical activity and will do you more good than sitting. While some researchers and doctors have recommended exercise as beneficial to to reduce menstrual pain (dysmenorrhoea), the studies are not definitive. See for yourself how it affects your body.

Performance Concerns for Exercise During Menstruation

Studies have shown there is no consistent effect of menstruation on athletic performance for female athletes. It seems to vary from woman to woman and other factors such as whether they are using hormonal birth control. Anecdotally, women have won marathons on a day they were menstruating. If you have a walk planned or even a race such as a 10K, half marathon, or marathon, just go for it.

Choosing Menstrual Products for Exercise

If you normally only use tampons, you may find that a pad works better for walking, or you might want to add double up and wear a pad as well as a tampon. You may have to use a more absorbent product than you usually do, especially if you will be walking for a longer time.

Physical activity might cause shifting, etc. and you may have difficulty keeping a tampon or pad in place and absorbing the menstrual blood. You may have to replace your tampon or pad during a long workout, so you will have to bring a replacement along with you.

When training for the marathon, schedule at least one of your long distance training days for a day when you will be menstruating so you can find out before the day of the event if you have any preference in this during long duration events. Even if the calendar says race day won't be a menstrual day, the excitement and preparation for the race may result in getting off schedule.

Dealing Embarrassing Menstrual Moments During Exercise

Marathon runner Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon in 2015 without wearing a tampon or pad. Her menstrual blood was visible. She did this to dispel the stigma of menstruation and show support for women who have no access to feminine hygiene products. Many other women competitors in races have had the same thing happen without choice as their periods started during the race or their products failed. One way to hide the blood is to choose darker colors for your shorts or pants, such as red, brown, or black.

Wearing a running skirt may help hide any leakage. In case of unexpected leakage, you may want to tie a scarf around your hips as an impromptu skirt. You can champion it as a style choice.

During a marathon, your fellow racers of both genders may be having similar embarrassing problems, including diarrhea from runner's trots, bladder control problems and simply not wanting to stop at the portable toilets. You won't be alone with a stain at your crotch. At least menstrual blood is odorless. It is wise to bring a change of clothing along to a race in your gear drop bag.

Menstrual Irregularities

Female athletes may develop menstrual irregularities, especially if they have very low body fat, heavy training, stress, and poor nutrition.

Discuss any irregularities openly with your medical care provider.

Sources:

Daley A. The role of exercise in the treatment of menstrual disorders: the evidence. The British Journal of General Practice. 2009;59(561):241-242. doi:10.3399/bjgp09X420301.

Julian R, Hecksteden A, Fullagar HHK, Meyer T. The effects of menstrual cycle phase on physical performance in female soccer players. Lucía A, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(3):e0173951. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0173951.

Samsudeen N, Rajagopalan A. Effect of Different Phases of Menstrual Cycle on Cardio-respiratory Efficiency in Normal, Overweight and Obese Female Undergraduate Students. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research : JCDR. 2016;10(12):CC01-CC04. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2016/23080.8954.

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