Could Exercise be Affecting My Period?

QUESTION

Dear Fitness Expert,
I have recently increased my exercise regime, and have noticed that my periods -- previously very regular -- have become more irregular (and just at the time when I would like to be able to predict ovulation!) I didn't think I was exercising excessively, but now wonder if there may be a link.

I generally exercise 5 times a week, usually swimming 120 lengths of a 20m pool, or running 8.5 miles (in 75 minutes), or doing 40 minutes cardio workout at the gym. Could this be affecting my periods? It wouldn't have thought it was enough to be a problem, but can't see any other explanation.

Thank you.

ANSWER

Yes, any drop in body fat can alter ovulation. The change is usually so minor most active women are not aware of the change but for women already lean or low in body fat, a sudden [intense] change in exercise can drop the required fat needed for regular periods. The average body fat for women is 18-28%. Researchers label active women with body fat between 12-17% as "athletes," 12% and under is considered elite athlete status -- based solely on body fat/exercise regimen.If you are concerned about this, I suggest speaking to your OB/GYN. In reality, however, this is not too much exercise. (Are you training for the triathlon?) There are plenty of elite athletes who have (semi) regular periods and get pregnant while training. As long as you feel strong and can handle the physical load, keep on swimming and running. Whew! Are you doing weight lifting? Even light weights/high reps will help you build muscle and will compliment your training.

But in case you are hoping to get pregnant, you need to talk to two people: an OB/GYN and a nutritionist. Your diet during this intense training will play a huge factor in how your body responds to training and ovulation. Good luck. Let us know why you are training so hard.

-- Alex

Alexandra Allred

Alexandra Allred is a former member of the US Women's Bobsled team, is an accomplished martial artist, and continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She has interviewed hundreds of athletes, models, actresses, trainers, doctors, and health/fitness experts as she sought to find answers to her own questions about working out while pregnant, arranging breast-feeding around a training schedule, diet when pregnant and breastfeeding, and encouraging her whole family.

Alex is the author of ten books, including Atta Girl! A Celebration of Women in Sports and Entering the Mother Zone: Balancing Self, Health & Family. We're excited to have her on board!