Q.I've been told it is unhealthy to exercise during menstruation. Is this true? And if I do work out, will my performance be compromised?
A. "There is no reason women should not exercise throughout their menstrual cycle," says Renata Frankovich, M.D., team physician for the University of Ottawa in Canada. "There are no risks or adverse effects." In fact, Frankovich says, for many women, exercise can help minimize premenstrual symptoms such as mood and sleep problems as well as fatigue.
The performance issue is more complicated, says Frankovich, who reviewed 115 studies for a paper published in Clinical Sports Medicine in 2000. "We know that women have set world records and won gold medals at all phases of the menstrual cycle in all kinds of sports. But it's difficult to predict how one particular woman is going to perform."
Frankovich's review did not pick up any consistent trends, but she says the studies were difficult to compare because they used different methods to determine the various phases of the menstrual cycle and because the subjects were of varying fitness levels. Furthermore, she says, there are many factors affecting performance -- including experience and motivation -- that cannot be controlled in research.
The bottom line: "A recreational athlete shouldn’t be concerned about what time of the month it is," Frankovich says. Elite athletes, though, may want to keep a diary of how they feel at certain times of the month and take birth-control pills so their menstrual cycles are predictable. "Some women get very tired before their period," Frankovich says. "They may want to time that with a recovery week and then push their training when they're feeling strong."