Can exercise delay periods? | The short answer is yes! Exercise is one of the factors which can lead to delayed or missing periods aka Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. In particular too much exercise or too high intensity exercise. If your body perceives your exercise as a stress or if you aren’t eating enough to fuel your activities then exercise can delay periods.
A common question from women trying to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is “Can exercise delay periods coming back?” or “Can I exercise while trying to get my period back?”. I wrote another post about my tips for exercising during HA recovery. If you are thinking about taking a break and need some motivation, here are 5 ways exercise can work against your recovery.
Can exercise delay periods? 5 reasons why!
1. It burns calories
Exercise burns calories which could otherwise be directed towards healing and repair of damage caused by dieting. The point of eating a lot more food during recovery is to flood the body with energy and nutrients to use for healing and repair. Exercise burns up some of these precious resources which will only prolong the healing process. Often women find it hard to meet the minimum recommended calorie intake for recovery and if you choose to exercise you should eat even more to compensate which can be a challenge.
2. Compensation for eating
Many women use exercise as a way to compensate for “over-eating” and it can be temping to start to move more when we allow ourselves to eat in abundance. We don’t want to exchange one control mechanism for another, we want to be completely free of all restrictions and compensations around food. We want to get to a place where we let go of any toxic beliefs around exercise and let go of guilt for resting. Exercising to make up for eating more is just another form of disordered eating behaviour.
3. Exercise causes stress
Intense exercise is perceived as a stress by our hypothalamus, the brain master control centre. This means it can continue to feel it is unsafe to reproduce and not send the signal to restart our cycles. Although exercise is a good way to relieve mental stress, it is a physical stress on the body as it depletes glycogen reserves, increases the heart rate and damages muscle tissue. Exercise is healthy for a healthy body but if you don’t have your period you are not healthy right now and rest and recuperation will be your medicine.
4. Weight control
For many women with HA, exercise has long been used as a way to manipulate their body and separating exercise from weight loss is difficult. We want to get to the point were we can exercise for fun and well being, regardless of the impact that it has on our physical appearance. If we continue to exercise during recovery, we might not do some of the mental work that is needed to fully break free of the weight loss mindset. It’s likely that you need to gain weight if you have lost your period and exercising could make this more difficult.
5. Appetite supression
Exercise can be used as an appetite suppressant or a distraction from hunger. Exercise puts our nervous system in “fight or flight” mode when our body is stimulated and running on adrenaline which decreases hunger. You might find that you are more hungry on rest days because your body has calmed down and this is exactly what we want for healing. If you are hungry on a physical or mental level you should eat. Don’t fall into the trap of being “too busy to eat” as this will only delay your recovery.
Can exercise delay periods after HA recovery
Once you have recovered your period and have accepted your healed body, you might want to start exercising again. Hopefully this is from a much better headspace! By this I mean it will be a conscious choice to take pleasure from movement rather than because you feel you have to control your body in some way.
As long as you are taking care not to push yourself too hard, you should be able to exercise in the future without losing your period again. It’s best to listen to your body and observe any signs of hormonal imbalance to know if you are on the right track. I enjoy hiking, cycling, dancing and yoga and I am able to do these things regularly and maintain a healthy period.
Over to you…
I hope this article gave you something to think about! It’s a personal choice whether you decide to stop exercising all together during your recovery. Women have recovered successfully from HA whilst still exercising but it is my opinion that we recover faster and more completely if we give our bodies chance to rest and fully repair.
- Let me know in the comments, how do you feel about taking a break from exercise? Does it feel scary or a relief? For those in recovery, are you still exercising or taking a break?
- If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.