Illustrated by Jihyang Lim

How To Relieve Menstrual Cramps By Working Out

PMS who?

by Molly Hurford

Let’s be clear on one thing: PMS is basically the worst. But the good news is that exercise can actually help with the symptoms and pain when done right.

How, you ask? Well, at its most basic, remember this iconic moment? 

But seriously. Getting sweaty does release those feel-good hormones, and in addition to making you happy, those hormones can also blunt pain and stress responses. Additionally, exercise can help increase blood flow and improve digestion, so that backed-up and bloated feeling that partially causes your cramps might actually get kicked to the curb. And, come on, no one has ever said, “I wish I hadn’t exercised today.” 

2013 study done on young women showed that establishing an exercise routine greatly decreased PMS symptoms across the board, including cramps. Ready to alleviate some cramps and boost your mood out of that PMS-driven hormonal roller coaster? Let’s get started.  

Easy does it 

Before you lace up your new running shoes that are still in the box, hold on a second. This is not the time to start a major fitness routine. If you’re not used to the daily workout grind, don’t hit up a CrossFit class or head out on a 10-miler. Keep your first workouts low impact and familiar. If you’ve taken spin class on the weekly, hit that up. If you’re more a hike-with-friends kind of person, call your buddy and plan to meet up ASAP. Getting into a regular exercise routine before your period hits—and sticking to it after your cramps have faded—is a great idea if you’re plagued by brutal PMS.  

Make it a regular occurrence 

One survey showed that women who exercised regularly had significantly lessened physical and emotional symptoms during that time of the month. And the Office on Women’s Health recommends at least two days, or two and a half hours, of exercise every week to reap the most PMS-alleviating benefits. A combination of cardio and strength training is ideal.  

Do some yoga 

It’s cliche and pretty wellness-guru-y, but for a good reason: it works. Yoga is a stress-relieving powerhouse. "One of the best ways to ease PMS-related cramps is to relax,” says Erin Taylor, founder of Jasyoga. "Yoga offers powerful tools, not just to ease the aches and pains that often accompany your cycle but also to help you more easily manage hormonal fluctuations, rather than letting them rule you. Opt for gentle, supported postures that relax the belly, low back, and hips. And consider approaching PMS as an invitation to rest more. Your body will thank you.” For some gentle flows you can do at home so you can collapse if Pigeon pose strikes a nerve, or if you’re just feeling like Child’s Pose is releasing some of that gut pain and you want to hang there a while longer, there are a ton of free, easy flows that will make you feel inspired, calm, and way less cramped. Or go even gentler, and try Taylor’s meditation sequence.  

Run around the block 

Sometimes, period cramps can be alleviated by getting your bowels moving. And running is a great way to activate those bowels (sometimes at inopportune moments)… Just make sure you’re close to home or a public restroom! Exercise can help protect the brain from stress-induced depression, so, in this case, just getting your heart rate up is better than any amount of Tylenol or heat packs.  

Try going hard 

For some women, going hard—i.e CrossFit or HIIT—can actually go a long way toward alleviating cramps. This might not work for you, especially if you’re new to this type of high-intensity exercise. But getting your endorphin fix and your blood pumping may actually make you feel better, even if you’re feeling fatigue as one of your PMS symptoms. That increased blood flow should help your cramps and feelings of fatigue more than binge-watching Netflix and pounding back chocolates. Be kind to yourself in class though: If you need to stop for an extra sip of water, don’t beat yourself up.

Take a walk

Can’t convince yourself to get out the door for a sweat fest? Even a simple walk in nature will boost your blood flow and your mood, so at least make the effort to walk around the block for 20 minutes. And while sitting or huddling in the fetal position likely isn't going to help your cramps subside, walking and letting the muscles naturally relax and contract might do the trick.