How to start exercising again After Hypothalamic amenorrhea
I got this question a lot on my Instagram page “when can I start exercising again after I get my period back?”. I figured instead of DM-ing each and everyone of you, Id write a blog post about it! For those who do not know, Hypothalamic amenorrhea is when a woman loses her period for 3 or more consecutive months due to over exercise, under eating, and stress. HA is also known as RED-S (relative energy deficiency in sport) because that is exactly what it is, an energy deficiency. What happens when your body does not have enough calories to sustain a pregnancy is it will shut down the reproductive system as its not needed. However, HA has many short term and long term side effects that should not be ignored!
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice and should not be taken as such. I am not a doctor and do not claim to be as these are solely based on my experiences. Please consult your family doctor before considering any recommendations listed in this post. Thanks!
How over exercise took your period away
Exercise is a physical form of stress on the body. As women, our bodies are incredibly sensitive to stress (physical and mental). Exercise, when performed in a reasonable amount is known as an acute stress which has many health benefits and can prevent chronic diseases later in life. However, it is common for women who have an unhealthy relationship with exercise to go above and beyond what is necessary to obtain the health benefits of exercise.
MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER
Ill say it again for those who are as stubborn as I am, more is not always better. When exercise is performed with intensity everyday, your body has no time to enter the rest and digest mode which is very needed to maintain healthy hormones and a healthy period.
Your body is smart, it senses your environment is too stressful to maintain a pregnancy and the last thing it wants to do it get you pregnant Therefore, the hypothalamus (gland in your brain) will signal to your ovaries to not release and egg. Hence, no period.
Additionally, exercise makes the body release hormones known as beta endorphins and catecholamines. These 2 hormones can have a negative effect on estrogen and progesterone when released in large quantities.
Other factors that contribute to hypothalamic amenorrhea
Before you start exercising again, make sure you are also eating enough, have a healthy level of body fat, and can keep mental stress low.
Under-eating: eating less than your body burns can cause your period to go MIA. Disordered eating in the form of binge eating, crash diets, and weight cycling also have a negative effect of your menstrual cycle and can cause hypothalamic amenorrhea.
Low body fat: The female body cannot menstruate below a certain level of body fat known as “essential fat”. Essential fat is around 12-15%.
Phycological stress: Much like physical stress, chronic psychological stress has a negative effect on the reproductive system. Your body will perceive your environment as unsafe if you have too much work stress, family issues, a loss in the family, etc.
What exercises are “permitted” in HA recovery
There is no “one size fits all” approach to recovering your period. However, there are some helpful guidelines to follow in order for your body to feel safe again.
- Restorative yoga
Yoga is a great way to relax and stretch your body! Make sure you engage in yoga classes that don’t raise your heart rate too high and doesn’t feel a lot like a “workout”. Some of the yoga classes are an intense workout, which we do not want in this chapter of your life.
I like long walks on the beach at sunset;) Walking is the most underrated form of exercise! Gets the blood pumping, heart rate stable, and you can listen to your favourite music or podcasts.
- LIGHT weight lifting
Let me emphasise the word “Light”. This one is a bit contraversal as I see many people vote against weight lifting when trying to recover your period. However, eating enough food and not taking weight lifting to an extreme is key. A couple weight lifting sessions per week can help maintain muscle mass and benefit mental health.
Personally, when I tried cutting out all forms of exercise I was more stressed, I was depressed, and I don’t believe you need to cut out exercise completely in order to have a healthy relationship with your body and exercise.
Exercises after you get your period back (first 3 months)
Do not increase exercise until you get and maintain 3 or more consecutive and regular periods. Your menstrual cycle can very easily go MIA again if you increase exercise too much and too soon.
Continue to perform your regular routine of yoga, walking, and light weight lifting.
How to start exercising again: back to “normal”
Let me rip this band aid off, you can never go back to how you exercised prior to developing hypothalamic amenorrhea. After you have had 3 consecutive periods, you can begin to increase exercise slowly.
Add a little more intensity to your weight lifting sessions
Go on a light jog instead of a walk
Be gentle with yourself and do not push your limits too soon, when your period become constant and regular you may begin to increase exercise to a respectable amount. Up to 1 hour most days of the week is reasonable for active women.
If your period goes missing again
If your period goes missing when you increase exercise, there are a couple of ways you can approach this.
- Stop increasing exercise
- Eat more to support your new exercise routine
Stress and energy availability are the 2 key factors contributing to HA so be sure that both aspects of recovery are in check! Don’t stray away from eating enough and don’t increase exercise to what you were doing before.
Other ways to support your hormones
In addition to starting exercise slowly, you can also support your hormones through good quality supplementation.
Try cycle syncing – Cycle syncing (r) was created by Alissa Vitti, author of “Womancode” that helps women eat and exercise in sync with their menstrual cycle. Syncing with your cycle has a lot of hormone balancing benefits. However, it is not a cure to HA. Try some of their supplements to help aid in the process of regaining your menstrual cycle:
The second way you can support your body through hypothalamic recovery is by charting your cycle. If you have no idea what cycle charting is, go read this article!
In short, cycle charting is used to detect ovulation by taking your BBT temperature every morning. Your BBT chart will look a little something like this if you did ovulate:
If you did not ovulate, there will be no spike in temperature. No ovulation typically means you will not get your period that month. Cycle charting is beneficial for women who want to become more body literate and stop guessing if they’re period is going to come or not.
In conclusion, starting exercising again can be confusing for a woman with HA. I hope to have answered your questions in this blog post around exercise in recovery. I you have any other questions you would like me to dive deeper into, leave it in the comments below!
This is very insightful and helpful information with some awesome tipsI think a lot of women can benefit from reading this. Thank you for sharing!