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Women's Health & Fitness: How Exercise Can Affect Your Menstrual Cycle & Fertility

PFCLA
28 Sep 2022

Ever felt low energy while on your period? It's not imaginary. In this study published in the journal Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, hormone fluctuations over the monthly menstrual cycle play a key role in body responses. 

Most women have a general sense of their period or menstrual phase in their reproductive cycle. When it is, how long it lasts, and how it impacts their bodies, but what about the other three phases in the female reproductive cycle? Hormone fluctuations over the course of the monthly cycle affect emotions, energy levels, appetite, and much more.

The female reproductive cycle is made up of four phases and having an understanding of each of the different phases can be incredibly important when trying to conceive or even when pursuing fertility treatment. In fact, this knowledge can be extremely helpful for simply understanding one's general health. In this article, we cover each of the four phases Menstrual, Follicular, Ovulation, and Luteal, along with information about their average length, symptoms, function, and general exercises that may be helpful during each phase to maintain a healthy level of physical activity.

What Are the Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle?

Keep in mind that each phase's length and symptoms may vary per individual.

1. The Menstrual Phase

What Is the Menstrual Phase?

The first part of the female cycle is the menstrual phase, more commonly known as the period. If an egg is unfertilized, certain hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) in your body will decrease. During this time, the tissue lining the inside of the uterus that was intended to support a fertilized egg will no longer be needed and is shed from the body, resulting in bleeding.

How Long Does the Menstrual Phase Last?

The length of a menstrual phase is counted from the first day to the last day of menstrual bleeding of any volume. The length of this phase can serve as an important indicator of reproductive health. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, periods that last two to seven days are considered normal. The length of a period is determined by several factors including genetics, lifestyle, weight, and more. Some people have naturally longer periods while others may tend to have shorter ones.

What Are the Symptoms of the Menstrual Phase?

During the menstrual phase, one may experience the following symptoms in addition to the normal flow:

  • Bloating
  • Irritability
  • Cramping
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Low back pain
  • Sensitive breasts

2. The Follicular Phase

What Is the Follicular Phase?

The follicular phase happens concurrently with the menstrual phase. The brain's pituitary gland triggers the body to release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). FSH causes follicles within the ovaries to develop, promoting the development of viable eggs in the process. Once the follicle is mature, additional hormones are released that cause the formation of a soft tissue lining within the uterus. This lining will help support a fertilized egg for a successful pregnancy; it forms once the lining from the previous cycle has been shed.

How Long Does the Follicular Phase Last?

The follicular phase can last anywhere from 14 to 21 days.

What Are the Symptoms of the Follicular Phase?

During the follicular phase, one may experience the following symptoms:

  • Glowing skin
  • Increased libido
  • High energy levels

3. The Ovulation Phase

What Is the Ovulation Phase?

During the follicular phase, estrogen levels increase. This causes the release of luteinizing hormone (LH), which begins the process of ovulation. Ovulation is a monthly process. Ovulation occurs when one of the ovaries releases an egg. After the egg is released from the ovary, it travels through a fallopian tube where a sperm cell may or may not fertilize it. 

How Long Does the Ovulation Phase Last?

For a typical 28-day menstrual cycle, ovulation will occur around the 14th day. Though keep in mind, ovulation is not fixed, if you'd prefer a rough idea of when ovulation will occur, it can happen four days before or after the midpoint of your cycle.

What Are the Symptoms of the Ovulation Phase?

During ovulation, one may experience the following symptoms:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Libido changes
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Heightened sense of smell
  • Changes in cervical mucus

If you’re trying to time intercourse for optimal chances of pregnancy, try to have sex two or three days before ovulation. This sort of timing will increase the chances of getting pregnant since sperm can survive in a woman’s body for up to five days.

What Are Ovulation Disorders?

Ovulation disorders can make ovulation difficult to occur and even disrupt a menstrual cycle entirely. Below are ovulation disorders to be aware of:

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - PCOS is a hormonal disorder that results from an imbalance of reproductive hormones. This is a common health issue among women of childbearing age and is one of the most common causes of infertility. 

Hypothalamic Dysfunction - This disorder is fairly uncommon as it only affects women who have a smaller body fat percentage. Reduced body fat deposits can be due to intense exercise or eating disorders.

Premature Ovarian Insufficiency - This is a decrease in ovarian function before the age of 40, which happens because of a lack of eggs. A loss of eggs accompanies the ovary’s inability to produce estrogen. Hence, you should get a checkup if you don’t experience a menstrual period for months on end.

Hyperprolactinemia - Normally, prolactin levels are higher during pregnancy and breast development. Otherwise, high levels can disrupt your menstrual cycle because of reduced estrogen production and may cause infertility.

If you are dealing with any of the ovulation disorders mentioned above, see your primary care physician for help in navigating any cycle disruptions or reach out to one of our fertility specialists.

4. The Luteal Phase

What Is the Luteal Phase?

The release of an egg leads to the release of various hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. These hormones released during ovulation help keep the uterine lining ready to support a fertilized egg.

If an egg is fertilized, it travels to the uterus where it will implant along the lining. Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) will be released to continue sustaining the uterine lining.

How Long Does the Luteal Phase Last?

If an egg is not fertilized during your cycle, the whole process begins again. The luteal phase typically lasts around 12 to 14 days.

What Are the Symptoms of the Luteal Phase?

During the luteal phase, one may experience the following symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Irritability
  • Cramping
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Low back pain
  • Sensitive breasts

Below is a diagram explaining the menstrual cycle and the hormone fluctuations of an example 28-day cycle. These fluctuations may vary per person.

menstrual cycle diagram

Exercise and Your Menstrual Cycle & Fertility

Listening to your body is key when it comes to physical activity. By understanding your menstrual cycle and how it impacts you, you may find it easier to develop a regular exercise routine that accommodates your cycle. Overexertion can play a significant factor when it comes to fertility, there is too much of a good thing sometimes, remember moderation.

Exercises for Each Phase of Your Cycle

Have you ever heard of cycle syncing? This concept has been trademarked and there are not many studies to support it. However, having a better understanding of how your body responds throughout the reproductive cycle can help build a better relationship with yourself and healthy habits.

How Should You Exercise During the Menstrual Phase?

Light movements may be the best exercise during this phase. Relax and restore. Maybe try some gentle yoga or a stroll through the neighborhood.

How Should You Exercise During the Follicular Phase? 

Since this phase follows the menstrual phase, estrogen and progesterone are relatively low, and one may experience lower stamina. Try light cardio activities during this time. 

How Should You Exercise During the Ovulation Phase?

Energy levels tend to peak around ovulation. You may want to opt for higher-intensity exercises during this time.

How Should You Exercise During the Luteal Phase?

At this time, the body is preparing for another period. Energy levels may be low. Explore light to moderate physical activity.

Screen Shot 2022-09-28 at 12.58.28 PM

(Image source: Healthline)

Moderation Is Key

In order to have a menstrual cycle, one must ovulate. Exercise is necessary for maintaining good health, though in some cases, excess exercise can cause fertility issues. Excess exercise may impact one's hormones so much that it can prevent ovulation. Working out regularly is a good idea to maintain good health, though in moderation. Listen to your body and find what feels right for you. 

Track Your Cycle to Help with Fertility

Given how important timing is for pregnancy and how telling these timeframes can be in general, we encourage you to track your own cycle regularly. This information can help identify hormone imbalances linked to general health issues and can aid a fertility specialist when helping you start a family. For more information about treating infertility and helping you start a family of your own, contact our team of fertility specialists and doctors. The team at PFCLA is here to help. You can reach our office in Los Angeles at (310) 853-8320, and our Glendale location at (818) 952-0328.

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Note: This is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information provided is for general educational purposes only and is subject to change without notice. Speak to your doctor directly with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Any information contained herein does not replace any care plan as determined by a physician. 

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