Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a health problem that affects one in 10 women during their childbearing years. It's typically caused by an imbalance of hormones and can lead to issues like ovarian cysts, weight gain, irregular or absent periods, acne, excessive hair growth, and in some cases, infertility. Hormonal therapy, such as birth control, is often recommended to treat the condition, but some evidence suggests other lifestyle factors -- including a proper diet, stress reduction, and even working out with PCOS -- can make a world of difference in easing the symptoms.
And easing the symptoms is all we can really do when it comes to treating the diagnosis, as the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown, and there is currently no cure for it. But an early diagnosis and a proactive attitude toward making these lifestyle changes early on can reduce the risk of developing more serious, long-term health complications, such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
One of the best tools for managing PCOS is exercise, but it seems that many of the available online sources don't exactly give women with the condition a guide on how to exercise. Too many of these resources focus on telling women with PCOS they need to work on losing weight in order to manage their symptoms effectively. But, as two experts on the subject have told us, there's so much more to it than that.
Elite Daily spoke with Alisa Vitti, a functional nutrition and hormone expert and best-selling author of the book WomanCode, who has some advice on how to find healthier ways to balance fitness and a PCOS diagnosis.
Vitti encourages women to remember that working out smarter, not harder, is essential when it comes to this hormonal condition.
She tells Elite Daily,
Keep in mind that with PCOS, you have some degree of inflammation, micronutrient depletion, adrenal overload, and blood sugar sensitivity synergistically slowing down your metabolism. If you are getting a cycle, then the first half of the month, do 30 minutes of cardio maximum, and the second half of the month, keep it to short [with] seven- to 20-minute high-intensity interval training sessions. If you haven't gotten a cycle in months, then stick to 30 minutes of walking and seven-minute tabata training to rev up your metabolism without aggravating the underlying causes of your PCOS.
Vitti also says the MyFLO app can help you sync your workouts to your cycle and understand what foods to eat to get your hormones on track.
Certified health and wellness coach Nicole Granato wholeheartedly agrees with Vitti on the "less is more" mentality when it comes to exercising with PCOS. Granato was diagnosed with PCOS at a young age, but when her doctor recommended the traditional hormonal therapy to treat her symptoms, she decided to opt for a more holistic approach instead.
Granato claims she "reversed" her diagnosis (and was actually "undiagnosed") through wholesome nutrition and gentle exercise.
Granato says it's all about less intensity, rather than less movement, when it comes to exercising with a PCOS diagnosis. She explains to Elite Daily,
I believe in doing more nourishing exercises that are gentler around the reproductive area. It's important not to stress or overwork your body when you have PCOS, which is why I recommend exercises like pilates, walking, low-impact running, and yoga.
The inspiring health and wellness coach says these exercises promote healthy circulation and nourish the reproductive system. She recommends keeping these workouts to about an hour a day, and furthermore, Granato explains, a proper amount of restful sleep can really help in relieving stress and achieving a happy hormonal balance.
If we train our bodies to balance themselves naturally, then we have control as women. It's about healing ourselves, not 'treating' an issue. The [birth control] pill only gives us more issues, and we become dependent on it. When you decide you want a family, it will only be harder to find that nourishing balance.
Granato says her personal favorite healing exercise is walking, an underrated form of movement that, in her eyes, simply doesn't get the credit it deserves. She also enjoys pilates, which she believes offers a great mix of gentle movement and strengthening exercise that's perfect for women with PCOS because it helps build muscle in a slow, yet sustainable way.
So, whether it be a light jog or a restorative yoga class, when you have PCOS, it's important to find stress-free forms of movement that your body loves, and that you'll actually look forward to doing every day.