Eat less, exercise more, right?...
Well, not always.
Actually, for conditions such as PCOS and other hormonal imbalances, that advice can often be detrimental.
Our endocrine system (hormone system ) is super sensitive, especially as women.
This is due to an evolutionary model, as our hormones need to up or down-regulate, depending on our environment.
Imagine, back in caveman times, a male and female couple just killed a huge boar to feast on and were now resting happily by the fire in their secure cave 'home'.
In this scenario, hormones are going to be balanced and ready for pro-creation, as the environment would have been suitable to raise a child.
On the other hand, imagine they hadn't eaten for days and had just been chased out of their 'home' by a sabre-tooth tiger!
There's a pretty good chance that the female in particular would NOT be in a good place to carry a child, therefore her delicate hormonal balance would likely be temporarily shut down.
Talk about a cortisol spike!
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common female hormone disorders, affecting around 1 in 5 women, and is the leading cause of infertility in females.
Put simply, PCOS is an imbalance of the male and female hormones in women, often driven by factors such as stress and/or insulin resistance. Common symptoms include weight gain (especially round the middle ) cystic acne, hirsutism and hair thinning- which are not pleasant !
The food you eat and the way you move, influences how your hormones function.
Today I am going to share the best and worst types of exercise to do, if you are currently suffering with PCOS.
First, its important to know that there are different types of PCOS. These are explained really well in this great post by Lara Briden!
This post will give you an overview on which type of exercise will be best for you, depending on your type.
Insulin Resistant/Classic PCOS
This is often characterised (but not always ) by symptoms such as weight loss resistance, facial hair growth, acne and irregular periods. High insulin levels can stimulate the ovaries to produce androgenic hormones such as testosterone, which cause those pesky symptoms.
In my opinion the BEST types of exercise to do for this type are weight training and high intensity interval training (HIIT).
These workouts have been shown to be very effective in increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing blood glucose levels and decreasing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Strength training will help to increase lean muscle mass and therefore helps our cells become more insulin sensitive (especially post workout), and this effect can last up to 24 hours! This means that your body will be able to utilise carbohydrates and blood sugar more efficiently, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.
The WORST thing you could do is jump straight on a zero carb diet and begin doing steady state cardio each day, for hours on end.
"What? That isn't the way to lose weight?!" I hear you ask.
You are basically going to tank your sex hormones and metabolism, while sending your stress hormones through the roof! High cortisol levels can lead to elevated blood sugar and insulin, driving your PCOS symptoms.
Going too low carb can actually worsen your insulin resistance in the long run and may also slow your thyroid function, perpetuating the weight gain, fatigue, poor skin quality and hair loss symptoms.
Chronic cardio is a stressor. Your body perceives 'danger' and feels like it could be running from a predator (like the sabor-tooth tiger! )
Stick with burst training instead, doing a 10-20 minute HIIT workout or interval bike sprints a few times a week.
Inflammatory/ Non insulin resistant PCOS
Contrary to the belief of conventional medicine practitioners, PCOS has many different types.
You may be lean, have normal blood sugar but have raging acne and missing periods. This can be caused by coming off the birth control pill, a chronic gut infection or over-exercising/under eating.
In this case, high cortisol is likely to be present due to the HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis being under stress.
The BEST types of exercise if you have this type of PCOS are walking and yoga.
These lower impact exercises are perfect to help re-balance your stress response, lower cortisol and promote the parasympathetic nervous system ( rest, digest, healing ).
When I say yoga, I don't mean a 90 minute sweaty Bikram class every day. Try a gentle flow class, yin or 30 minute Youtube tutorial. Walking is best done outdoors in nature, rather than on a treadmill. But as always, do what you can.
The WORST type of exercise would be anything that is going to further stress and push the body too hard, think Crossfit, intense cardio and bootcamp style training.
Remember, exercise is a form of stress. A positive stressor known as 'eustress'. If you find that you don't recover well after your workouts, keep injuring yourself, your hormonal symptoms are worsening or you leave the gym feeling like you are close to death, then you are probably doing too much for your body (right now.)
Be sure to take plenty rest days and opt for shorter workouts, as this allows the body to recover and prevents cortisol spiking too high.
It is important to use functional lab testing and consider working alongside a qualified health practitioner to determine which type of hormonal imbalance you may have.
In my practice, I use a range of testing to identify imbalances that may be driving my clients symptoms. It is always better to test not guess.
If you are dealing with PCOS, please note that your symptoms may overlap between the different types. Personally, I have dealt with every type of PCOS at one point or another, caused by different lifestyle factors.
Although the foundational changes such as stress management, eating a nutrient dense diet, getting high quality sleep, avoiding environmental toxins and moving your body, are the same for every hormonal imbalance, you may need help in tweaking your protocol to improve your personal imbalances and needs.
Just a quick reminder, if you haven't downloaded my free guide 'PCOS: 3 Common Mistakes to Avoid' , you can click here to download it now!