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Lifestyle Factors to Help Regulate Your Menstrual Cycle

Lifestyle Factors to Help Regulate Your Menstrual Cycle

Jackie Vinyard, M.S. Health Sciences | February 10, 2021 | Getting Pregnant
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Whether you’re trying to conceive or just trying to live your life, irregular periods can definitely put a damper on things. They may be caused by stress, illness, changes in weight, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or other underlying medical conditions (1). The key to getting your menstrual cycles back on track depends on what’s causing them to be irregular in the first place. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need to look to the pharmacy to find a solution. Here are 3 changes you can make in your everyday life that may help things along naturally. 

Lifestyle Change #1: Play Goldilocks with your exercise routine

If your activity level isn’t just right, it may be affecting your menstrual cycles. Too much exercise can cause irregular periods or missed periods (2). But too little exercise can also mess with your cycles, especially if you’re noticing weight gain or an increase in stress (3). 

Fortunately, there’s a wide range between “too much” and “too little” when it comes to physical activity. And women with PCOS (who are already prone to irregular cycles) may benefit from finding an exercise routine that works for them. If you have obese PCOS, healthy weight loss can help restore ovulation and help balance hormone levels in your body and even improve your mental health (4, 5).

[Working to regulate your periods is more of a journey than a destination. Keep track of your symptoms along the way so you can see what helps and what doesn’t. Start tracking with Kindara today]

Of course, weight loss is more difficult when you have obese PCOS (compared to those with lean PCOS). But, fortunately, the benefits of exercise go way beyond the number you see on the scale (6). Even if you don’t see visible fat loss, you’re still probably experiencing a decrease in dangerous visceral fat (internal fat around the organs) (7). Plus, with or without weight loss, exercise is important for improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels (8).

Exercising with PCOS and irregular cycles

You don’t need to go out and run a marathon to start seeing health benefits from exercise. Even 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is enough to maintain or improve your overall health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Or a combination of the two. The important thing is that you get your heart rate up and vary your routine (9).

Moderate-intensity exercise includes brisk walking, light bicycling, and even house cleaning. Vigorous-intensity exercise is more like jogging, running, swimming laps, heavy yard work, hiking, and tennis (singles) (10, 11).

Sample exercise program for PCOS

If you’re starting from very little or no exercise, try beginning with light to moderate-intensity exercise 3 times a week for 30 minutes. You can tell that you’ve reached a moderate activity level when you’re slightly out of breath but can still hold a conversation.

After a month of regular exercise, try adding 2 days of strength training each week along with your moderate-intensity activity. Weight training can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before, but there are many free online resources to help you get started. Focus on learning proper form, especially when you’re first starting out, and look for exercises that work out all the major muscle groups.

If you’re already exercising regularly, awesome. Keep it up! To get the most out of your exercise routine, make sure to:

  • Include both cardio and strength training
  • Mix up moderate- and vigorous-intensity training
  • Increase the intensity of your workout when it starts to feel too easy

Especially if you don’t currently exercise, are pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant, make sure to speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.

Lifestyle Change #2: Pay attention to what you eat  

Our western diet of processed foods, simple sugars, and very little fiber may be fast and easy, but it’s making us sick. Eating this way causes an inflammatory response and may lead to all sorts of problems such as excessive weight gain, diabetes, cancers, and heart disease (12). 

While there’s no one perfect PCOS or cycle-regulating diet, there are some clear guidelines that apply to everyone: We all benefit from eating a balanced diet of vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, and complex carbohydrates.

Naturopathic physician and women’s hormonal health expert Dr. BreAnna Guan recommends eating at least 4 ounces of protein with each meal, adding in healthy fats whenever you can. You should also include leafy veggies with at least 2-3 meals per day (13). 

Rules about carbohydrates are a little trickier, she says. Athletes or those with lean PCOS may benefit from eating more complex and healthy carbs, but others who are more sensitive to sugar may need to keep carbs very low (13).

Your optimal diet depends on what your body can handle and how it responds to the foods you eat. Aim for sustainable, lifelong changes over trendy crash diets. And if you start feeling deprived or hungry, you may be cutting out the wrong foods. The goal is a nutrient-dense diet high in fiber and low in saturated fat and refined sugar (14).

PCOS and refined sugar 

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests an added-sugar limit of no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for most women (15). For comparison, a 16-ounce white chocolate mocha from Starbucks has 53 grams of sugar (16)! 

If you’re insulin resistant, part of regulating your cycles will include creating a lifelong plan to significantly reduce sugar from your diet. But without insulin sensitivity, reducing sugar may prevent diabetes, weight gain, and other chronic diseases such as heart disease (17).

To help cut refined sugar from your diet, Dr. Guan recommends focusing on balance and moderation for a sustainable solution. Allowing yourself a dessert once in a while may be more realistic and enjoyable for you, especially when you’re just starting out. Remember, this isn’t for a week or a month — this is for life (13).

PCOS and dairy

You may see benefits, such as weight loss and decreased hormonal symptoms, after removing dairy from your diet (18). But even if you’re not sensitive to dairy, you may still want to stick to healthy dairy options, such as hard cheeses, goat cheese, and Greek yogurt (the kind without added sugar). Try to avoid yogurts with added sugar, ice cream, and heavily processed cheeses (like Velveeta) (13).

PCOS and alcohol

Generally, the less alcohol you drink, the better. Even a few alcoholic drinks per week may have a long-term negative effect on health, increase breast cancer risk, and cause inflammation and insulin resistance (19). These health effects may be even more severe for those with PCOS, who have trouble metabolizing alcohol (13).

That said, for some people, alcohol can be an important part of socializing, unwinding, or celebrating. A glass of a dry red wine or beer every now and then will likely not derail all your other efforts, but try to avoid sugary cocktails.

Lifestyle change #3: Prioritize your shuteye 

Sleep can be just as important for your health and wellness as diet and exercise. Unfortunately, women are more likely than men to experience insomnia — the enemy of a good night’s sleep. This may be because of the unique hormonal ebbs and flows that happen throughout the menstrual cycle — especially in the days leading up to menstruation, when sleeplessness is most often reported (20). 

Menstrual-related insomnia is especially common in those with PCOS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a more severe type of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (20).

Long-term insomnia may play a role in the development of health problems, such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and obesity. To sleep better, experts suggest avoiding smoking, alcohol use, and daytime naps (20). They also recommend the following tips:

Establish a bedtime routine

Go to sleep at the same time nightly (even on weekends), and only when you’re relaxed and feeling sleepy. Your biological clock works best when you stick to a routine. Irregular sleeping patterns can lead to you getting less sleep each night and being more tired during the day (20). 

Adding in a nighttime routine (think: drinking herbal tea or following a skincare regimen) may help signal to your body that it’s time for sleep. Try to stay away from technology during this time because the light from your phone or TV screen can make it even harder for you to fall asleep (20).

Set up your sleeping environment

By making your bedroom a nighttime oasis, you can help set yourself up for better sleep each night. You can do this by addressing the temperature (a cool 65 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended for the best sleep) and minimizing noise and light levels in your bedroom (21). 

Get outside and exercise during the day

Your daytime routines can also impact the quality of sleep you get at night. For example, going outside and basking in the outdoor light for several minutes each morning may help you fall asleep faster by normalizing your wake-sleep circadian rhythm. Exercising (as long as it’s more than 2 hours before bedtime) may also help improve your sleep quality (20, 22). 

Find ways to de-stress and practice mindfulness

It’s no secret that stress can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Taking time during the day to practice relaxation techniques may help combat this (23). According to a study in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, people who did meditative yoga daily at home slept better, felt less tired during the day, and had fewer feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, tension, and anger (24). 

Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to modestly improve sleep quality, shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and increase sleep efficiency (the percentage of time spent asleep in bed) (25). 

We’ve put together stress management techniques that may work for you, just in case counting those sheep isn’t cutting it:

What if lifestyle changes don’t fix the problem?

If you feel like you’ve tried everything and you still can’t sleep, talk to your doctor about other possible treatments for insomnia. Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, they may recommend acupuncture, dietary changes, visiting a chiropractor, floral therapy, or supplements like isoflavone, magnesium, or melatonin (20, 26).

Ready to make these lifestyle changes but not sure where to start?  Sign up for the free 3-Cycle Challenge for PCOS/irregular cycles for a game changing ebook, encouraging emails and a workshop to help you reach your goals.

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And remember, even if it takes a while to get back to having regular cycles, you’re still going to reap the benefits of making positive changes to improve your overall health. 

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