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Dr Shilpi Srivastava
If you have PCOS, this is the most balanced way to exercise
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal disorder that can prompt symptoms like irregular periods, hair loss, excess facial hair, acne and weight gain, all of which may be confusing to treat, especially because there are many opinions about what the right way to do it is. If you’ve been diagnosed with it, you may have heard exercise can help considerably—but a quick search on the internet will caution you against working out too hard either. What gives? We spoke to two doctors for their take on the best ways to get in a sweat session when you have PCOS. The connection between insulin resistance and exercise It is important to note that exercise alone isn’t a one-size-fits-all fix for PCOS.
But working out can serve as a tool to help to manage some major symptoms. “Regular and consistent exercise can help lower insulin resistance, the underlying driver for PCOS in more than 80 per cent of women who suffer from it,” says PCOS expert and nutritionist, Suchita Mukerji. “It has shown to improve glucose metabolism, lower blood sugar levels, regularize menstrual cycles, improve mood, depression, anxiety and the overall hormonal state,” she adds. “If a person is insulin resistant, their cells don’t react properly to insulin, which forces the pancreas to pump out excess hormones,” says Dr Shilpi Srivastav, a physiotherapist who focuses on gynaecological conditions at Motherhood Hospital, Noida. “Working out can increase the cells’ response to insulin and allow them to more easily use glucose for energy,” she says.
The best way to exercise if you have PCOS Research shows that moderate-intensity workouts (at least 30 minutes, 3 times a week) are said to reduce insulin resistance and improve weight loss. Here’s what to do to make sure you’re not doing too much—or too little. Strength Training Dr Srivastava reveals several studies prove strength training can help reduce insulin resistance. It can increase the size of your skeletal muscle and enhance the muscles’ ability to manage glucose. “Research shows that even a 10 per cent increase in muscle mass results in a 11 per cent decrease in insulin sensitivity. This helps lower androgen levels, improves glucose metabolism, boosts the resting metabolic rate and helps fight belly fat,” she confirms. Muscle actually burns calories in order to sustain itself so the more muscle you gain, the more calories you will burn daily. Steady state cardio Exercises such as walking and swimming help keep the body active and reduce cortisol levels. This is particularly beneficial for those with adrenal PCOS according to Mukerji.
Stress plays a major role for those suffering from PCOS, and here’s how restorative exercises can help. By aligning the body and the mind, these also help in lowering the internal inflammation. Many doctors suggest against long runs for hours on end. It can drive cortisol levels up without triggering the HGH, so you might be revving stress up without getting the same metabolic benefits. Since you might be running high-stress hormones, you’re adding more fuel to the fire, especially because cortisol can disrupt the menstrual cycle, promote weight gain, especially around the middle. It is important to remember that exercise is a form of stress (a beneficial kind known as eustress), but too much too fast can stop you from recovering well enough.
High intensity interval training Mukerji dismisses the common myth that HIIT should be avoided by those with PCOS. “HIIT is an intense and short workout lasting about 15-20 minutes which is known to improve insulin sensitivity and also increase HGH (Human Growth Hormone) which helps improve the metabolic rate,” she says.