The internet is choc-a-bloc with information on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), hormonal imbalances, and ways in which exercise can impact the same. The problem, however, is that it’s hard to know which information you can trust. And getting the right guidance is essential, considering that PCOS is one of the most common hormonal issues in women between the ages of 15 and 45.

That’s why we spoke to Dr. Vinutha Sasalatti, Consultant Obgyn to get you the facts, and nothing but the facts. Read on to get all your questions answered!To start with, the tell-tale signs of PCOS are:

  • Irregular periods, since ovaries release eggs erratically
  • High levels of male hormones leading to facial hair and acne
  • Enlarged ovaries due to fluid-filled sacs surrounding the eggs

Often, even just two of these symptoms are enough for a PCOS diagnosis. These symptoms — which also include reduced fertility and male pattern baldness —  are caused due to altered insulin sensitivity and excess levels of testosterone. This may also lead to low self esteem associated with body image, and in some cases, depression and anxiety.

That being said, PCOS can be brought under control through lifestyle changes that cover both diet and exercise. Regular exercise comes with physical and mental benefits — and in patients with PCOS,  it’s also shown to improve insulin sensitivity (reducing glucose levels in the body, and hence fat), release ‘feel-good’ endorphins, alter body composition, increase good cholesterol, and regulate ovulation.

In short, whether you’re losing weight or not, exercise is good for you!

What role does exercise play in managing PCOS?

Working out, as part of other lifestyle changes, forms the first line of PCOS management. In patients with obese PCOS (unlike those with lean PCOS), losing even 5% of one’s body weight can help relieve symptoms.

It could also improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin, through which glucose is taken from the blood and sent to the muscles.

PCOS is often characterized by high testosterone levels. Should patients avoid weight training in case they bulk up?

The levels of testosterone even in PCOS patients are low when compared to the level needed in order to gain muscle bulk like professional athletes or hard-core gymmers, you won’t bulk up. So there is no reason to avoid weight training.

What are some of the best exercises to do for people with PCOS?

Any kind of exercise is good, but a combination of cardio and strength will give you the best results.

  • Cardio such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming helps increase the heart rate and uses energy, thus burning calories and aiding weight loss. It also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes in patients of PCOS
  • Strength training builds muscle, increases the basal metabolic rate, and helps burn more calories both at rest and while exercising
  • Other forms of exercise such as high-intensity workouts and core strengthening also reduce body weight and boost fitness levels
  • Practising Yoga regularly can also be effective for weight management and keeping your metabolism in check

Are there any exercises that people with PCOS should avoid? And how often/for how long should people with PCOS work out?

There is no limitation on the type, duration, or intensity of exercise as long as it suits one’s body and lifestyle. Any duration has its benefits. However, guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week.

This boils down to 30 minutes, five times a week, with two days of strength training.

Apart from exercise, what are some other ways in which PCOS can be managed effectively?

PCOS management includes aspects such as lifestyle changes as well as non-hormonal and hormonal treatments. Lifestyle changes include dietary alterations, exercise, weight loss, adequate sleep, and stress management. If the situation demands it, surgical options are also available.

In short, yes, PCOS is distressing — but it is also easily manageable with the right medical advice and lifestyle changes. Hopefully, this piece will have helped you get on the path to wellness!

Feb 20, 2021

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