If you have read my last post on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back? you will know that I recommend to take a break from intense exercise when you are trying to get your period back. This includes any form of intense cardio such as running or HIIT as well as heavy weight lifting. In this article I want to talk more about exercise during HA recovery *. In particular, how much and which types of exercise are ok whilst healing your hormones.
*HA stands for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. It is a functional condition where your periods stop due to an energy imbalance or excessive stress on your body.
What types of exercise are ok during HA recovery?
When healing your hormones, low intensity is always the way to go. Walking, easy cycling, yoga, stretching, swimming, dancing. These can all be great ways to move your body and feel good without increasing your heart rate too much. If you use a heart rate device I would suggest to stay below the “light” zone of 60-70% HR max. This is an easy pace and not too tiring on your body. You should be able to exercise without pushing yourself to exhaustion. Afterwards you should feel energised and happy, otherwise you are likely overdoing it.
That said, if you are tired and you don’t feel like exercising. It is totally ok to rest and do nothing! Actually this is the fastest way to recover so don’t feel guilty if you want to relax on the sofa all day. It’s much better to take a complete break for a month or two than try to continue exercising and the process take much longer, right? Feeling tired is common once you start to eat more and your body goes into repair mode. It’s a good sign that inner healing is happening so don’t freak out. Let your body guide you to when it’s time to start moving again.
How long and how often can I exercise during HA recovery?
I really think that the way to recover your period quickly is to take a total break from intense exercise, at least for a few months. Dr Nicola Rinaldi, author of No Period Now What, suggests waiting to return to exercise till you have 3 normal periods post HA recovery. If you are really keen to continue exercise, try to avoid high intensity cardio. Moderate workouts and weight lifting for up to 30 minutes may be ok a few times a week. However, every body is different and even working out a small amount could be the difference between getting your period back in 3 months or 3 years.
During HA recovery, light activity is ok on a daily basis as long as you are eating enough calories to balance it out. Getting your period back requires a surplus of energy, meaning that you need to eat more calories than you burn. So there is no need to panic about not being able to be totally sedentary. Just go about your daily life and eat plenty of food and you will be fine. Try to keep even light exercises like walking or yoga to under an hour and aways listen to how your body feels. If you are tired, rest!
In the beginning of my HA recovery, I took a break from all exercise except walking to work. I did this for for 4 months until I got my period back. I also practiced gentle yoga most days but I focused on stretching and breathing rather than anything intense. My yoga practice was more for mental health and stress relief than physical fitness. I did find it a struggle to let go of my old exercise habits and my belief that I needed to “sweat daily” to be healthy. But when I started to see fertile signs and increased energy levels, I know I was on the right track!
Can I exercise again once I get my period back?
I didn’t quite manage to kick the exercise addiction though. Once I had got my period back, I missed the “stress relieving” effects of getting a good sweat on. So once I had 3 regular monthly periods I thought I was good to go and I joined a gym. I started going to exercise classes and lifting weights again. This was a bad idea! My next 3 periods were 50-60 days long and a lot of the healthy fertile signs I had vanished again. I thought because I wasn’t doing long runs or intense cardio sessions I would be fine but not the case. So I was back to zero exercise for another few months until my hormones balanced out.
Once you have recovered your period, if you decide you want to exercise again then you can. Experiment until you find the sweet spot where you get the benefits of moving your body but without over-stressing your body. If you are paying attention to your body’s reactions, you will know the signs that you are overdoing things!
For example, when I tried lifting weights after HA recovery, I got moody and irritable for no reason. Eventually I realised it was my workouts that were depleting my energy reserves and I had to stop. This whole process has definitely given me a greater awareness of my how my body reacts to different things. This year I started “cycle-syncing” my exercise routine which I am finding really beneficial and I will share about this once I have a few more months of experience with it.
Looking to the future
Now I am 3 years into recovery, I am back to a much more active lifestyle again. Although I am nowhere near the obsessive gym-rat I used to be. Now I can cycle, run or do at home circuits a few times a week and still get a regular period. I also walk a lot and go to dance classes like salsa and zumba. Recently I tried a couple of times to go back to weight lifting because I genuinely enjoy it. Unfortunately, I could feel that my body felt exhausted afterwards and my recovery was very slow.
So if you are just starting out on this hormone healing journey, know that the decisions you make now are not forever but just a step on the road towards better health. Sometimes if you have taken things to the extreme (e.g. exercising like a fiend) then the pendulum has to swing right to the other side (e.g. sitting on the couch all day) for you to eventually find a healthy balance. Give yourself the gift of rest and learn to enjoy it. Chances are if you are over tired and stressed, you aren’t reaching your fitness goals anyway and taking a break may actually help you come back stronger than ever. Even competitive athletes take off seasons for recovery and repair and this is all part of their fitness journey.
Over to you…
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