Dancing Through Your Period

Okay, any men reading this, avert your eyes.

We are going to delve a little deeper into a subject that a lot of dancers and athletes overlook or avoid. A lot of trainers (and some doctors) say that exercising on your period can be beneficial for your health and even help you lose more calories, thus losing weight.

While this may be true, there are definitely downsides to exercising on your period. For the record, I am not a doctor. I am sharing what I have learned through extensive research and recommendation from my grandmother, who is a doctor. If you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to contact me using the Contact page or leave a comment below.

So, why is dancing (or exercising) through your period not the best idea?

First things first, periods are a normal and beautiful thing that your body goes through every month. It can reflect your health and fertility. When your hormones are balanced and your body is in homeostasis (balance), your period can come and go without many symptoms at all. That may be a little hard to believe, but it's true (we'll talk a little more about that another time).

PMS symptoms can include cramping, bloating, mood swings, headaches, and nausea. When you throw off the homeostasis of your body, whether by exercising too much/often, taking medication or birth control, or being under long-term stress, it can cause an imbalance of hormones, causing annoying symptoms and painful periods.

I'm not going to argue with the fact that exercise can help ease PMS symptoms. However, I think that you should know why I'm saying that you should think twice before entering into a workout routine during your period.

It is especially important for dancers and athletes to pay close attention to their menstrual cycle. Because of their rigorous training schedules and performances, they tend to have a higher risk of missing or non-existent periods (amenorrhea).

Did you know that you can become slightly anemic because of the loss of blood? Your body is working hard to replace that lost blood. Intense exercise can hinder this process.

Two of the most common reasons behind this is low body fat and stress. Body fat helps produce estrogen which is important for ovulation. If ovulation is thrown off, the rest of menstruation will be thrown off.

Rigorous training and constant exercise (over 1 hour, 5-7 days/week) can cause a lot of stress on the body. When you are stressed (either physically or mentally), the body is thrown off homeostasis and is basically in a state of fight-or-flight. When in this state, non-vital processes are shut down in order to deal with the "impending attack" perceived by the brain. High levels of cortisol (the hormone released when under stress) interferes with ovarian function, which interferes with a regular cycle.

The best way to avoid this type of stress on the body, is to set your priorities straight. Being a dancer myself, I know how difficult it is to limit the amount of time I am exercising. However, if you really care about taking care of your body, you need to give your body the time it needs to rest and take extra care of it during your period.

Even if you are just avoiding intense movement two out of five days of your cycle, that is still better than intensely training the entire time. Stick to simple exercises that keep you moving but don't stress the abdominal region. Go for a walk, do some squats, or swim. You must find balance.

Sleep well (8 hours/night), eat well, and relax.

I have dedicated a whole section of A Dancer's Diary to stress. I encourage you to check it out for great tips on how to keep stress at bay and how to avoid burnout.

Until next time friends,