Or do you rely on little extra-strength pills to ease your pain? Either way, you might be happy to learn that a few simple exercises can make a big difference, enough to go from filling a hot water bottle to smiling serenely…
As I write this, my time of the month is here and my cramps are killing me, so I decided to test some of the exercises the experts recommend.
4 easy exercises to ease menstrual cramps
#1 Put on your runners and get in a good cardio workout! (Work through the cramps, baby!) Increase your heart rate to around 65% of maximum capacity to work up a good sweat, but not enough to have you collapsing half-way through. No gym membership or expensive equipment required: just a quick walk will do the trick, especially if there’s a nice hill along your route to climb. Cycling, jogging, swimming, skipping rope, skating and cross-country skiing are all great aerobic exercises.
Although cardio may not seem so appealing when you’re doubled over in pain, it’s very effective! What’s more, regular cardio exercise—as little as 30 minutes three times a week, enough to work up a good sweat—should be enough to prevent menstrual cramps.
Why is exercise so effective? When you menstruate, your body produces prostoglandins, which cause cramping. Exercise helps your body secrete beta-endorphin, which not only acts as your body’s natural pain-killer, but also helps eliminate prostoglandins more quickly. The result: cramps either become less intense or disappear completely.
#2 Stretching while breathing deeply, which helps increase oxygen flow to the abdominal tissues. In fact, poor oxygenation is enough to cause cramps![ii] Do the following twice:
- Forward bend: Stand with your feet a shoulder-width’s apart and raise your arms above your head while inhaling. Lean forward from the hips and touch the floor while exhaling and without bending your knees. Hold the position for one minute.
- Head to knees: Sit on the floor, your right leg pointing straight in front of you, the left bent toward your right thigh (doing a figure 4). Raise your arms above your head while inhaling; exhale while leaning toward your right knee. Hold your foot or ankle if you can. Hold the position for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
- Forward bend, legs apart: Sit upright on the floor with your legs spread apart as far as possible (without bending your knees), feet pointing up. Raise your arms above your head while inhaling; exhale while leaning foward until you touch the floor in front of you. Touch your forehead to the floor if you can. Hold the position for one minute.
If you’re not quite flexible enough to swing that, don’t be discouraged: it’s the movement, breathing and stretching that matter, not your performance.
#3 Yoga is excellent because it focuses on breathing and relaxation, both of which relieve cramps. The half-bridge pose, for example, allows you to stretch your lower back and relieve the infamous cramps that define menstrual pain. To do it, lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels as close to your bum as possible. Hold your ankles and breathe as you raise your hips. Hold the pose for 30 seconds while breathing, then relax.
#4 If cramps keep you up nights, use a pillow to raise your legs. This position fosters relaxation of the uterine muscles.
I can personally vouch for the amazing effectiveness of these exercises having tested them yesterday. For the first time in months, I didn’t feel a need to take any pain medication. Give them a try!