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The Effects Of Endurance Exercise On The Menstrual Cycle

Updated on February 5, 2013
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Female Triathletes. How is their menstrual cycle affected by endurance exercise?

The Effects Of Endurance Exercise On The Menstrual Cycle- is there a link?
The Effects Of Endurance Exercise On The Menstrual Cycle- is there a link? | Source

Exercise and the Menstrual Cycle- A long debated subject

Should a woman avoid endurance exercise or physical competition during various phases of her menstrual cycle?

It's been a long debated subject whether women should exercise during their period. Many female athletes experience few or no difficulties training and competing during their menstrual cycle however a significant number of women do have problems that are in no way helped by cycling, running, rowing, triathlon or any other endurance sports.

This article investigates the effects of endurance exercise on the menstrual cycle.

Amenorrhoea and menstrual cycle issues in female endurance athletes- a historical perspective

Many studies have shown increased rates of menstrual irregularities as a result of prolonged exposure to regular endurance athletic training. In some cases this has led to the cessation of the menstral cycle in female endurance athletes at a higher rate than that experienced in the general population.

Stress and Menstrual Cycle Irregularity

While studies have shown greater prevalence of menstruation irregularities in women that regularly perform endurance exercise it could be considered that the exercise is not the direct contributory factor of this.

Exercise and a serious structured endurance training program can lead to stress to an athletes psychological, sociological and physiological well-being. As an endurance athlete attempts to coordinate their responsibilities- both training and life, this can lead to changes in diet and sleep patterns as well as loss of body fat. These factors will lead to changes in hormone levels within the body such as cortisol in response to the stress. As there are so many variables in play it is not feasible to simply say that endurance exercise is solely responsible for the irregularities in the female's menstruation.

Female Racing Cyclists In Crit Action

Female cyclists are greatly at risk from amenorrhoea as a result of endurance exercise
Female cyclists are greatly at risk from amenorrhoea as a result of endurance exercise | Source

Amenorrhoea and endurance exercise

Amenorrhoea refers to the cessation of the regular menstrual cycle and it is well know that it is a regular occurrence in women at either end of normal weight scales. Those that have an extremely low level of body fat and those who are classed as clinically obese.

The hormone Estrogen is metabolized differently in these women as a result of other hormones having an influence on the function of the Pituitary Gland and Ovaries which subsequently results in menstrual disturbances.

The effect of endurance exercise on menstrual function

Endurance exercise leads to the production of endorphins which may have a detrimental effect on the hormones a woman requires for normal menstrual function. This may be a possible link between Amenorrhoea and endurance exercise.

While there is no concrete evidence that endurance exercise is the main cause of Amenorrhoea any athlete that experiences such problems must seek medical advice while they continue their endurance exercise program as it should not be assumed that the endurance exercise is the cause.

Good luck in your cycling, running, rowing, triathlon or other chosen endurance sport.


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