More than one third of women do not understand their own menstrual cycles, according to new findings.
The menstrual cycle affects all kinds of things about the female body, so this new research from a national PureGym survey is certainly alarming.
There’s still a lot of stigma around periods and feminine health in general.
Menstrual health wasn’t even a compulsory part of the national curriculum until 2019, even though it affects half of the population from around the age of 12.
A survey from PureGym conducted in October found that, after speaking to more than 2,000 women from across the UK, 35% of respondents had no understanding of the terms around their menstrual cycle or the biological processes.
So, here’s what you need to know.
Why is understanding your menstrual cycle so important?
Your menstrual cycle means body’s hormones can change significantly from week to week. It is important to understand when they’re changing and what that means so you can understand your own body better.
If you track your period, you can also understand why you might feel like you’re in more of a slump at some points in the month than others.
It’s not just for fertility either, but can help your daily life, as well as detect when there may be something wrong through irregular symptoms.
London GP, Dr Shireen, told PureGym: “Women’s health is poorly taught in our schools, and most of the research that exists around exercise is based around men and male physiology.
“There is a huge gap in general knowledge around hormones, the menstrual cycle and how they impact our wider lives, such as with exercise.”
What is there to know?
While there is plenty to learn around the female reproductive system, here are the very basics.
The average cycle lasts for around 28 days, but can range from 21 to 40. There are also four phases:
1. The menstrual phase (day 1-7)
2. The ovulatory phase (day 4-14)
3. Follicular phase (day 14)
4. Luteal phase (day 14-28)
Oestrogen is a hormone which usually gives you more energy, and it’s usually at its highest during the first half of your cycle.
In the second half, prior to your period, you might find it harder to keep up the same energy levels as your oestrogen levels drop off, meaning you should gravitate towards lower-impact sports.
Of course, there is plenty more to uncover around our cycles.
Even after sharing 29 episodes of her podcast 28ish Days Later, presenter India Rakusen said that “we have barely scratched the surface here, there is so much more to learn”.
How does this help your daily life?
According to PureGym, almost 32% of women in their survey said their cycle is part of, or the sole reason, they do not exercise.
Exercise is a key part of staying healthy, so if you understand the best times of the month for you to do vigorous classes (or more low-impact moves), then you might start to enjoy exercise more.
After all, the World Health Organisation in 2018 said almost half of British women are insufficiently active.
But, as Emma Ford, a PT from PureGym Bicester, said: “Remember that each week will be different depending on the point you’re at in your cycle, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect each week.”
Dr Shireen added: “People who do [sync their workouts to their cycle] are more likely to feel satisfied after their workouts because they won’t have pushed themselves beyond their limits and will also have a better understanding as to why their performance may be suboptimal compared to other parts of their cycle, so will be less hard on themselves.”
For plenty of women, it's hard to exercise when you're on your period
Not only that, exercise can alleviate PMS symptoms, so you might even feel better if you do some moderate exercise just when your womanhood is getting you down.
Dr Shireen said: “There is strong evidence to show that gentle exercise, along with other factors such as diet, a reduction in alcohol and stopping smoking, can help to reduce PMS symptoms, with dietary/supplement changes such as reducing caffeine, increasing magnesium, calcium and vitamin D also helping to alleviate them.”
Of course, understanding your reproductive health has more advantages than just enabling you to exercise.
Chella Quint, who started the ‘Period Positive’ movement in 2006, explains on the organisation’s website: “Period taboos and the habits that uphold them lead to negative consequences, like period poverty, late diagnoses of reproductive health problems, sustainability issues, unsafe behaviour, gender discrimination and social exclusion all around the world, including right here in the UK.”
Gynaecologist Dame Professor Lesley Regan told the 28ish Days Later podcast that we need to make periods “an entirely normal thing to talk about”, and suggested GPs even start asking patients about their cycles during regular check-ups.
How can you improve your understanding?
At the moment, according to PureGym, only 47% said they tracked their own menstrual cycles.
But tracking your period is one easy way to understand your own cycle.
You can do this through apps, or pen and paper, and just record your monthly bleed. Then you can work out (roughly) when you might go through each stage of the cycle, and understand yourself better.