Due to limited research, learning how to manage PCOS and its accompanying symptoms can be difficult. However, recent research has shown that women with PCOS who exercise regularly experience greater symptom management and relief. PCOS coincides with obesity, insulin resistance, imbalanced hormones and decreased metabolic rate.
The question is: what type of exercise is best and how much is enough? The answer depends on your PCOS symptoms and the related conditions that you are also trying to manage. Below, read more about the types of exercise for PCOS.
Best and Worst Workouts for PCOS
Strength training, such as lifting weights or bodyweight-focused exercise, can help improve many PCOS symptoms, including insulin resistance and slow metabolic rate. Strength training also helps to build muscle mass, which can increase body’s metabolism during workouts and at rest. Remember to give your body time to rest in between strength training sessions to ensure adequate repair and recovery of muscle tissue.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT workouts are defined as short periods of demanding physical activity alternated with lower intensity recovery periods. Research shows that women with PCOS who participate in HIIT-style workouts have greater blood glucose control, improved body composition, overall lower BMI, higher HDL (good) cholesterol, and better hormone regulation.
Studied over time, these women were at lower risk for developing metabolic syndrome in the future. HIIT has proven to be the most effective form of exercise in women with PCOS. However, these workouts are very demanding on the body. If you build HIIT workouts into your routine, ensure you prioritize adequate recovery and rest into your schedule. Research shows that 2-3 days of HIIT style workouts are sufficient for achieving the PCOS-related benefits.
Yoga has been praised for its ability to help with PCOS management due to its role in stress management. Since much of PCOS revolves around hormone regulation, it is important to prioritize stress management to keep stress hormones at bay. When your stress hormone (Cortisol) increases, so does Insulin which can further the presence of insulin resistance. Research shows that participating in yoga or mindfulness meditation at least three times per week for as little as 10 minutes can have lasting benefit.
Cardiovascular exercise has many benefits, but when it comes to PCOS management, it can be counterproductive. Cardiovascular exercise includes running, jumping rope, and cycling. Too much cardio may raise certain hormones levels, including androgens and the stress hormone cortisol. When these hormone levels are elevated, the body responds by releasing extra insulin, making it more difficult to manage blood sugar levels. Don’t let this deter you from doing any cardio exercise, though. Cardio has many other benefits such as helping to improve cardiovascular function and maintaining a healthy weight. The idea is to not overdo it and always make sure to balance cardio with other forms of exercise.
Each form of exercise brings something different to the table. In order to get the best results, it’s important to mix up your exercise routine and make sure you’re not exhausting one specific area. The best routine is a mixture of strength, cardio, and active recovery.
Skipping recovery days:
Instead of rest days, focus on “active recovery” days. Active recovery means that you’re still moving but you allow your body to recover from the higher intensity workouts that you have completed. Recovery days are just as important as higher intensity workout days and should be scheduled at least 2-3 times per week. Active recovery can include a long leisurely walk, gentle yoga, an easy bike ride, or taking your furry friend to the dog park to play!
The Bottom Line
When it comes to exercise and PCOS, the most effective exercise is the one you keep up with. Pick a variety of activities that you enjoy and make you feel good! Research suggests that HIIT and resistance training are the most effective exercise for managing your PCOS, but what’s even more important is that you’re moving your body in a way that feels good.
To read more about foods to avoid, foods to eat, and how to make easy changes as part of a healthy PCOS diet, download our PCOS Nutrition Guide.
Brittany Linn is a Registered Dietitian at OnPoint Nutrition. She is a compassionate dietitian with over 10 years of diverse experience in the wellness, coaching, and nutrition education world. Her ultimate objective for each person she works with is to teach them how to create lasting wellness habits and increase their confidence around food and within themselves.