Do I need to stop exercising to get my period back?

Aug 16, 2023 | Blog

Just like nutrition, exercise recommendations for period recovery can have a lot of nuance. Recommendations can vary per the individual depending on their health history, relationship with movement, and their current lifestyle. 

Dr. Nicola Sykes, author of No Period, Now What? was the pioneer of the cold turkey “all in” approach of no exercise for period recovery, which has shown to be very effective! But you may be asking: is that really necessary? 

Let’s dive in. 

If you’re new around here, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) is a condition where menstruation stops due to stress, excessive exercise, or inadequate caloric intake. While it’s a reversible condition, many women struggle with getting proper guidance and support during the recovery process to actually see periods return and cycle regularly after recovery. In my own practice, I’ve actually worked with several people who are going through HA recovery again after relapsing back into old habits- especially in the postpartum period.

However, be encouraged that by making targeted changes to your exercise habits (in conjunction with proper nutrition of course!) you can help restore hormonal balance, get your period back, and optimize your chances of getting pregnant naturally. 

Here’s how to get started:

Recognize the Importance of Rest

When dealing with hypothalamic amenorrhea, it’s crucial to understand that rest is a critical component of the recovery process. Overtraining or excessive exercise can further stress the body and inhibit the return of menstruation. Aim to get sufficient sleep each night and allow your body to recover between workouts. I recommend 8 hours minimum each night and make sure you’re allowing yourself to take FULL rest days.

Reduce High-Intensity Exercise

High-intensity workouts and long, grueling exercise sessions can increase stress hormones like cortisol, which may negatively impact your hormonal balance and impair ovulation. Instead, opt for lower intensity exercises like walking, yoga, or pilates. Remember, the goal of movement during recovery is to stimulate blood flow and boost mood- not burn hundreds of calories. And don’t worry, if you have a love for high intensity movement, it is something you can get back to eventually once your body is healthy, happy, and cycling regularly again.

Limit Unnecessary Exercise

While exercise is beneficial for overall health, excessively moving your body can be counterproductive to the period recovery. This is true even for lower intensity exercise! I recommend limiting all intentional movement (yes, even walking) to no more than 60 minutes per day during recovery. If you have a generally active lifestyle or a job that requires you to be on your feet all day, you may need an even more target approach with nutrition to offset the activity you’re doing and give your body the extra energy required to ovulate.

Incorporate Restorative Activities

Incorporate activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction into your routine. Activities like meditation, gentle stretching, or spending time in nature can help lower stress levels and support hormonal balance. They can also help get out some nervous energy and replace the time you’ve previously spent at the gym. This is a big pain point for the women I work with because when you’re used to spending 7-10+ hours/week exercising, you may feel like you have a lot of free time during recovery! Exploring new hobbies can be a helpful way to fill your newfound free time that you’re used to occupying at the gym or in a spin class.

Find New Outlets for Stress Management

If you’re thinking…but exercise is how I manage my stress! If I don’t move, I’ll be so stressed and that can’t be good for my hormones, right? You need to know that the stress your body is under currently from the underfueling and over exercise that have led to period loss are having a much larger impact on body systems than the perceived stress you may feel about not working out. That’s not to say your feelings aren’t valid! In fact, perceived stress matters too, and it’s something you may want to consider getting additional support around during your recovery journey. 

Get More Support

If you feel you’re battling a true exercise addiction, working with a licensed therapist who specializes in eating disorders can be a great next step. You may also find a lot of support in a community of women working towards similar goals recovery, period recovery, and restoring balance in their relationship with food and movement.

When it comes to what you personally need to with exercise in order to recover you period, it’s important to explore your motivation for movement and your personal goals for recovery to set yourself up with the best success for long term health.

Recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea and improving fertility requires a holistic approach that includes modifying your exercise routine. Be patient with yourself and remember that it may take time for your menstrual cycle to return when following a proper plan. By reducing the intensity and duration of your workouts, prioritizing rest, and focusing on nourishing your body, you can support the healing process and increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Need a more personalized approach?

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MEET THE HOST
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I’m a fertility nutritionist and registered dietitian who specializes in hypothalamic amenorrhea. My passion is helping women trying to conceive find freedom with food and exercise, so they can recover their period, and get pregnant naturally.

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