Study suggests exercise doesn’t reduce menstrual pain

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© Odilon Dimier/PhotoAlto/Corbi

Despite the prevalence of anecdotal evidence suggesting the benefits of exercise in reducing period-related discomfort, a new study from researchers at Birmingham University in England indicates that how much you work out may not necessarily impact the severity of menstrual cramps. The study, first highlighted by the BBC and published in the international journal of obstetrics and gynecology, BJOG, included 650 college-aged women, 28% of whom reported having regular menstrual pain. When researchers analyzed frequency and duration of exercise and compared it to reports of period pain, they found exercise did little to reduce discomfort, and in fact this persisted even when a range of other factors—including weight, ethnicity, smoking and use of the birth control pill—were taken into consideration.

Researchers say that these latest findings undermine what has long been held as common knowledge about alleviating menstrual cramps, but they are careful not to dismiss the merits of exercise for women who confront monthly discomfort. As researcher Dr. Amanda Daley told the BBC:

“Anecdotal beliefs that exercise is an effective treatment have prevailed for many years and while it might seem intuitively appealing to promote exercise as a treatment for menstrual disorders, the findings from this study, along with many others, would not support such a view… Of course there are many other important health reasons for encouraging women to be physically active and exercise performed in moderation is unlikely to be harmful.”

Of course, not to undermine the importance of these study findings, which may help encourage future research into alleviating menstrual discomfort, but anecdotal evidence should still count for something—even if your exercise regime doesn’t reduce cramps, it’s hard to deny that getting out for a jog or bike ride is a better way of getting your mind off the pain than sitting doubled over on the couch. In other words, if exercise helps you cope with cramps, you should continue to run with it.