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How Running Can Ease PMS Symptoms

A woman wearing a sports bra uses a foam roller

You’re not feeling like yourself and you’re not sure why. You can’t seem to peel yourself off the couch. The only kind of marathon you’re interested in at the moment is one on Netflix.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can make you feel like a different person. Mood changes, aches and pains and extreme fatigue can be crippling. You might call in sick to work or cancel Saturday night plans. PMS changes the way you interact with the world around you.

Going for a run is probably the last thing to do when PMS strikes. But, if you can throw on your running shoes and get outside, studies show a good run help your body say goodbye to some of the PMS symptoms that are holding you back.

PMS: The Basics

PMS is a constellation of physical and emotional symptoms that impact a person during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle. The luteal phase is the period of time between ovulation and the beginning of your period.

Almost all people who have periods have experienced some discomfort during their luteal phase. Yet, it’s estimated that less than 10 percent of menstruating people experience PMS severe enough to receive a diagnosis. Most people have experienced some PMS symptoms at some point.

True PMS is a medical diagnosis with symptoms so severe they can disable a person emotionally, behaviorally or physically. There is even some evidence that PMS is a unique mood disorder and not simply a set of severe menstrual symptoms.

How do you know if you have PMS? Here are the symptoms to look for:

PMS Symptoms

Feeling hopeless, depressed

Feeling anxious

Sudden changes in mood

Breast tenderness

Outbursts of anger

Headaches

Disinterest in social activities

Joint and muscle pain

Difficulty concentrating

Bloating or weight gain

Lethargy and fatigue

Trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual


What Causes PMS?

A woman running in the city

Unfortunately, there’s not a solid answer about what causes PMS. Researchers think PMS is caused by the interactions between the chemical messengers in your brain, body and reproductive organs.

Much of the research on PMS has focused on one of these messengers, called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that send messages between your brain cells and your muscles.

Researchers think there’s a relationship between depression and a specific neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin is often called the happiness chemical because it promotes good mood and a sense of wellbeing. During the luteal phase (between ovulation and your period), serotonin might drop as estrogen decreases. This could explain the depression and other symptoms that come along with PMS.

Running to Relieve PMS Symptoms

Regular aerobic exercise is the number one recommended treatment for PMS. Every runner knows that nine times out of ten, running is the cure for what ails you. When it comes to PMS, it’s a scientific fact that running can combat the fatigue and depression that come along with your luteal phase.

You don’t have to be an experienced runner to get the benefits of PMS relief. You do, however, have to run consistently, even when you’re not having symptoms.

One study on PMS followed a group of young women who had never participated in an exercise program. The study subjects completed an eight-week exercise program that included jogging. The women completed three sixty-minutes sessions each week. At the end of the study, physical and psychological PMS symptoms declined throughout the group.

What’s the magic behind running? As you know, running is a high intensity exercise. When your heart and lungs pump fresh oxygen through your body at faster rates that normal, your brain works faster, too. All exercise is good for your brain and body, but high intensity exercise like running is specifically associated with boosting serotonin levels.

Running might also boost the neurotransmitter tryptophan. This neurotransmitter is necessary for your brain to synthesize serotonin. Tryptophan is associated with improved mood and sleep and a sharper brain.

​When You Can’t Run Off PMS Symptoms

A woman wearing warm running clothes

PMS symptoms are different for everyone, making it tricky to know when symptoms are really an indication that something else is going on. The symptoms of PMS can mimic depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, iron deficiency and thyroid disease.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends thirty minutes a day of aerobic exercise to reduce PMS symptoms. If you’re running every day and still struggling with PMS, it’s worth checking in with your healthcare provider. They will most likely want to run some tests to make sure there’s nothing serious going on.

Track Your Run And Your Symptoms

Across the board, runners love tracking their runs on maps and apps and everywhere in between. For the same reason you should track your run, you should track your menstrual cycle as well. Find a tracker that lets you track how you feel every day of your cycle, your activity level and your diet. By tracking, you’ll be able to make connections on when your symptoms improve or worsen.

Because PMS symptoms are unique to each person, collecting this data might give you important insight into your specific cycle. Perhaps doubling up your miles the week before your period lessens your PMS symptoms. Maybe you’re so fatigued you can’t even get out the door. Having all this data in one place will help you make a plan for your next cycle.

Even if you don’t notice a difference in your PMS symptoms right away, keep your running on schedule. The high intensity exercise will refresh your brain and body. It’s hard to do something when you’re not feeling at the top of your game, but those are the moments you can really celebrate your perseverance.


By Dr. Sarah Toler. Sarah Toler, CNM, DNP is a Certified Nurse Midwife and Doctor of Nursing Practice. As a midwife, Sarah knows it’s an honor to help women thrive throughout life’s greatest journeys. Sarah works with women throughout pregnancy and birth, but her real passion is the postpartum period.

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