We all know we should be doing it and yet, sometimes, it can seem that there’s always a good excuse not to exercise, "I don't have time, I'm too tired, I'll do it tomorrow...." However, the benefits of sensible, regular and moderate exercise are well-documented. It has been shown to reduce the risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and depression. Exercise is also significant for women with PCOS to help manage symptoms associated with the condition.
Why should women with PCOS exercise?
Moderate to high intensity exercise is recommended for all women with PCOS
The PCOS Australian Alliance stresses the importance of exercise (1). The reason for this is that exercise alone, regardless of diet or any weight loss, has been found to improve overall health and reduce risk factors associated with the condition, such as high blood pressure and insulin resistance. However, diet and exercise combined is recommended for optimal PCOS management. You can read more about PCOS & Nutrition here.
How much exercise should women with PCOS be doing?
- 2 ½ hours of exercise a week for all women with PCOS, particularly those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or over. You can work out your own BMI here.
- 1½ of these hours a week should be moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise (1).
What type of exercise is best?
Moderate to high intensity exercise includes any exercise that increases your heart rate, gets you sweaty, and makes you feel like you've had a good workout! It doesn't include your general everyday activity because this isn't usually intense enough to make you sweat but it could be, for example, swimming, doing a fitness class, jogging or walking.
You can also look at other ways to increase your general level of activity. For example, doing things like walking up stairs rather than taking the lift, walking up escalators instead of just standing on them, parking further away from the supermarket or shop entrance, and walking to places instead of driving where you can.
Positive PCOS tips for getting started with exercise:
Be kind to yourself: Integrating exercise into your life is not designed to be stressful or make you feel guilty. All of this information is here to help you put your health first and do something that makes you feel great. The fact that you're reading this and educating yourself about the benefits of exercise is a step towards achieving increased wellness.
Gradual steps: If you don't have an established exercise programme or are not sure where to start, it can help to take small and sensible steps to meet your own health needs and abilities. For example, there is no point aiming to go for a 5k jog on your first ever attempt and then giving up altogether because you struggled to get to the end of your road. There are jogging programmes available all over the internet to help you build up to your desired goal in stages. You could go for a walk a few times a week, gradually increasing the pace, distance and route. Remember that when you're starting out, the key is to just get moving!
Do something you enjoy: If the thought of going to a gym or for a run fills you with fear and dread, get creative and think about what exercise you like because you're more likely to keep it up regularly if you enjoy it. Exercise really doesn't need to be a chore and seeing the positive changes in your body can be a great motivator. What exercise or activity do you like doing? If you like dancing, why not take up a class or workout to a DVD at home? Love gardening? Think about how you can adapt it to work up a sweat. You could incorporate short bursts of running to get items from the shed, fast shovelling or raking, or safely lift items such as compost or water filled cans.
Make time to exercise: Yes, it can seem more convenient to keep pressing snooze on your alarm clock than getting up and fitting in some exercise before work. Yes, it is easier to watch TV than go to an exercise class. Yes, we all know the excuses because most of us have probably used them at some point! But we know about the overwhelming benefits of exercise so treat your health as a priority.
Think about how you can realistically fit exercise into your everyday life. It may be that waking up early and exercising first thing works best for you, or maybe 2 or 3 exercise sessions a week for 30 minutes suits you better. It could be that you put on an exercise DVD at home or incorporate it into your daily routine. For example, maybe you can cycle or walk to work. If you use the bus you could get off a few stops early or, if you drive, try parking further away from your place of work and walk the rest. If you have kids you could exercise with them - trampolining, running after them in the park, or power walking that pushchair to the shops.
There are lots of ways to integrate exercise into your life. Get sweaty and have fun!
References & Information Resources
Note that referenced or mentioned authors, websites and organisations are not affiliated with, nor endorsing, the content published on Positive PCOS.
1: The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health on behalf of the PCOS Australian Alliance. 2011. Evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. Copies available to download at www.jeanhailes.org.uk