Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal disorder that affects millions of women worldwide, so it is important to think about ways how to manage PCOS and the symptoms that come along with its diagnosis.
It is characterised by various symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, weight gain, and fertility issues. While PCOS cannot be cured, its symptoms can be effectively managed through a combination of lifestyle changes, including regular exercise and a healthy diet.
How to manage PCOS: Understanding symptoms
Before diving into management strategies, it's crucial to understand the underlying factors and mechanisms of PCOS.
PCOS is primarily a hormonal imbalance characterised by a range of symptoms, some which are caused by various PCOS ‘types’. The most prominent being elevated levels of androgens (male hormones) in the female body and insulin resistance. This hormonal imbalance disrupts the normal functioning of the ovaries, leading to the formation of small cysts.
The exact cause of PCOS remains unknown, but several factors contribute to its development. These include genetics, insulin resistance, inflammation, and lifestyle factors such as poor diet and sedentary behaviour. However while these can increase the aggravation of PCOS, you can still have PCOS even if you don’t show these behaviours prior to your diagnosis.
It's important to note that PCOS affects each woman differently, and symptoms can vary significantly from person to person. So these are tips that should generally improve the intensity of symptoms but might not work for each and every individual due to the complexity of PCOS.
The Role of Exercise in Managing PCOS
Exercise plays a crucial role in managing PCOS; by addressing several key factors associated with the condition, regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity, aid in weight management, reduce inflammation, and regulate hormone levels.
Aside from the physical side of things, exercise has been shown to alleviate stress and improve overall mental well-being. Taking care of your mental health when suffering from PCOS is hugely important, there are a lot of emotional challenges related to the condition and any help to alleviate this will be helpful in the overall management of symptoms.
Exercise Recommendations for Women with PCOS
Engaging in cardiovascular exercises is vital for managing PCOS. Activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and dancing can help improve cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and contribute to weight management.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT workouts involve alternating between short bursts of high-intensity exercise and periods of active recovery. This form of exercise has been shown to be particularly effective in improving insulin sensitivity, enhancing metabolic function, and promoting weight loss. Start with shorter intervals and gradually increase the intensity and duration as your fitness level improves.
Incorporating strength training for PCOS into your exercise routine can have numerous benefits.
Strength training helps build lean muscle mass, increase metabolism, improve insulin sensitivity, and promote weight loss. Focus on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, and rows. Aim for two to three strength training sessions per week, allowing for adequate rest and recovery between sessions.
Flexibility and Mind-Body Exercises
Don't neglect the importance of flexibility and mind-body exercises in your fitness regimen.
Activities like yoga, Pilates, and stretching can help reduce stress, improve posture, increase flexibility, and enhance overall body awareness. These exercises also promote relaxation and can be beneficial for managing symptoms such as anxiety and depression often associated with PCOS.
Incorporating an Everyday Active Lifestyle
In addition to structured exercise sessions, strive to maintain an active lifestyle throughout the day.
Incorporate movement into your daily routine by taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking or cycling for short distances instead of driving, and engaging in activities like gardening or household chores. These small lifestyle changes can have a cumulative effect on your overall physical activity levels.
Dietary Considerations for PCOS Management
Sadly, exercise alone is not enough to effectively manage PCOS; a healthy and balanced diet is also crucial. Here are some dietary considerations that can positively impact PCOS management. (P.S. don’t forget to consult your nutrition coach and PT to get tailored advice!)
Balanced Macronutrients: Aim for a balanced intake of macronutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Focus on consuming complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which provide essential nutrients and fibre while minimising blood sugar spikes.
Incorporate lean sources of protein such as poultry, fish, tofu, legumes, and dairy products into your meals. Include healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, which support hormonal balance and overall well-being.
Fibre-Rich Foods: High-fibre foods help regulate blood sugar levels, improve digestion, and promote a feeling of fullness. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and seeds in your diet to ensure an adequate fibre intake.
Avoid Processed Foods: Processed foods, including sugary snacks, refined grains, and fast food, can exacerbate insulin resistance and contribute to weight gain. Limit your intake of processed foods and opt for whole, unprocessed foods whenever possible.
Mindful Eating: Practising mindful eating can help you develop a healthier relationship with food. Slow down, savour each bite, and pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. This approach can prevent overeating and promote a more satisfying eating experience.
Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is important for overall health and can support hormone balance. Aim to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day and limit sugary beverages.
Lifestyle Tips for PCOS Management
In addition to exercise and diet, adopting certain lifestyle habits can further aid in managing PCOS:
Stress Management: Chronic stress can worsen PCOS symptoms. Incorporate stress management techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy. Prioritise self-care and make time for activities that help you relax and unwind.
Quality Sleep: Establishing a regular sleep routine and prioritising quality sleep is crucial for hormone regulation and overall well-being. Aim for seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.
Support Network: Connect with other women who have PCOS through support groups or online communities. Sharing experiences, seeking advice, and offering support can be invaluable in managing the emotional aspects of the condition.
Regular Medical Check-ups: Regularly consult with your healthcare provider to monitor your PCOS symptoms and discuss any necessary adjustments to your management plan. They can provide guidance on medication options, hormonal therapies, or specialised treatments if needed.
Need more Advice?
Managing PCOS is a multifaceted journey that requires a holistic approach. Remember, each woman's journey with PCOS is unique, so it's essential to consult with healthcare professionals, including personal trainers, and doctors, to develop a personalised management plan that suits your specific needs. With dedication, patience, and support, it is possible to thrive with PCOS and lead a fulfilling, active, and healthy life.