Skip to main content
Alert icon
COVID-19 Resources Click here for details.

Exercise & PCOS – What Women Should Know

September 01, 2021

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects up to 26 percent of women age 15 to 44. PCOS occurs when your hormones are out of balance due to the growth of small cysts on your ovaries. It often leads to a variety of troubling symptoms. There is no cure for PCOS, but knowing you have the condition is crucial. Making positive lifestyle changes can help in managing PCOS.  Regular exercise has incredible benefits that go way beyond weight loss for women with PCOS.

Weight loss is an important treatment strategy as it improves practically every parameter of PCOS. Since exercise burns calories, it can be a helpful tool to aid weight management. Although PCOS can make weight loss difficult, losing even the smallest amount of weight, around five to ten percent, could significantly impact your symptoms. 

It’s not uncommon for women with PCOS to gain weight. Approximately 50-60% of women with the syndrome are overweight or obese compared to 30% of women in the general population. PCOS leads to higher concentrations of estrogen in the body, which causes fat to cling in stubborn places. Weight gain is also associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance because excess body fat triggers the body to produce more insulin. Insulin resistance affects up to 70 percent of women with PCOS and is at the center of many PCOS symptoms. Excess insulin in the bloodstream may also affect the ovaries as it can cause an increase in the production of the male hormone testosterone. This can result in other common PCOS symptoms, such as excess facial and body hair, oily skin and acne. The good news is that any variation of exercise can improve the function of insulin in the body.

Women with PCOS are more likely to have high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and develop atherosclerosis, which can increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease. Regular cardio exercise strengthens the heart muscle and significantly lowers your risk for these complications. Exercise can help increase your levels of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. 

Period irregularities, including infrequent and completely absent periods, are also symptomatic of PCOS. An abnormal menstrual cycle indicates the body isn’t ovulating regularly, which can often lead to fertility problems. Prioritizing exercise may support regular ovulation. In assessing the impact of exercise and PCOS, researchers found that moderate-intensity exercise improves ovulation, and improvements weren’t dependent on the type of exercise, frequency or length of a workout session. 

Living with the symptoms of PCOS can take its toll emotionally. Increasingly, research suggests women with the condition are more likely to develop symptoms of depression. Regular exercise can be helpful for people with mild to moderate depression and is an effective strategy to improve mood. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are hormones that promote feelings of wellness. This can help manage stress and alleviate some symptoms of depression.

Yoga offers a multitude of benefits for women with PCOS. Recent evidence suggested that yoga may improve anxiety, ovulation, hormones and metabolic parameters, all of which are critically important for managing PCOS. Beyond this, yoga also appears to have a favorable effect on cholesterol and insulin levels in women with PCOS. Yoga was found to be considerably more effective than conventional physical activity in improving insulin resistance, glucose, and lipid values amongst adolescent girls with PCOS. 

If you’re not very active at the moment, all this talk about exercising regularly may seem overwhelming. But the good news is you don’t have to launch into a military fitness-style exercise routine to get results. Any exercise is better than none, even a quick ten-minute walk can improve your overall sense of wellbeing. Another simple way to boost your activity level is to move more in your daily life. Building movement into your day is an effective way to keep your body and mind healthy with PCOS. While exercise won’t fix PCOS, it can provide some relief to its symptoms. 

A physician specializing in gynecology can diagnose Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and help you manage your symptoms. West Tennessee Medical Group’s GYN Specialists can help. Call (731) 660-3344 now for more information or to schedule an appointment.