No time for bleeding

The Manila Times

Menstruation and physical fitness
BY ROME JORGE Lifestyle Editor

April 7, 2010

How do they do it? How do top female athletes train and compete regularly despite menstruation? Despite incapacitating cramps that make it difficult to move about. Despite bloody discharges that necessitate the replacement of sanitary pads at the most inconvenient of situations. Despite mood swings that challenge people skills, managerial decisions and personal bonds. Despite having three to seven days of every month taken away, leaving even less time for fitness and wellness.

Less physically fit women wonder: How their colleagues can find the time and the strength to run, bike, swim, climb, lift or surf through it all. How their ancestors farmed, fished, hunted, sailed, migrated, fought and survived despite losing a piece of themselves regularly. Or how their mothers and grandmothers put up a smile on their faces as children even as they themselves suffered. Evidently, menstruation shouldn’t be a problem.

The secret, as scientists, doctors and top female athletes have found out, is that physical fitness, along with a healthy diet and stress-free lifestyle, is the solution to alleviating and avoiding menstruation woes.

Physical fitness tends to shorten menstruation, lessen its severity and sometimes regularize its occurrence. During times of intense physical challenges, a woman’s body even undergoes amenorrhoea—a temporary cessation of menstruation—without any apparent long-term effects on their fertility or health. After all, the female body is built for action, having the same capabilities as that of men—and then some.

If a woman uses her body for what it was for built for—regular physical activities—then it would work the way it was intended—with menstruation that is brief, regular and manageable. It is the sedentary yet stressful lifestyle of modern sexist society that engenders a long, painful and debilitating menstruation. This is the true anomaly.

A part of womanhood
Menstruation is not simply bleeding; it is the shedding of the lining of a woman’s uterus. This ensures that, if she should conceive when she is fertile, her baby will have the best possible environment with a fresh new uterus wall to inhabit for the next nine months. Dysmenorrhea or uterine cramps are contractions of the uterine muscle to expel the endometrium or uterine lining.

Some 80 percent of women experience premenstrual symptoms (PMS), which caused by fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone hormones. These can also cause mood swings.

Curiously, humans are one the few species that “bleed” or overtly menstruate; most mammals reabsorb their old endometrium. Humans reabsorb only about two-thirds of the endometrium.

Regular training, less downtime
Several members of the highly esteemed Team David’s Salon, the Philippine’s first all-woman multisport team, attest to the effects of physical fitness on menstruation.

Triathlete Joyette Jopson says, “To me, it regularizes but shortens my monthly period.”

On the other hand, fellow triathlete Nina Dacanay says that though exercise shorten her menstruation and lessen its severity, it does not regularize its occurrence.

Popo Nagtalon, a young mother as well as an athlete, confesses, “When the training is especially intense, my period is delayed.”

Jopson adds, “I know some hardcore female athletes who do not get their period from too much exercise I guess.”

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.