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PCOS – How Exercise Counteracts Difficult Symptoms Blog Feature
Ellie Downs, RN

By: Ellie Downs, RN on June 30th, 2015

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PCOS – How Exercise Counteracts Difficult Symptoms

PCOS | Health | Wellness | Exercise

PCOS is a complex metabolic and endocrine condition that causes hormonal imbalances in women and girls of reproductive age. PCOS affects 5-10% of women of reproductive age – hormonal imbalances prevent the ovaries from ovulating and releasing an egg to meet the sperm, thereby resulting in impaired or sub-fertility. Even small adjustments in lifestyle choices make a big difference in how PCOS can affect you.

pcos-and-exercisePCOS & Exercise

This is the first of a three part series highlighting how various aspects of lifestyle affect polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a common endocrine disorder that affects approximately 7 million women and teenage girls. It is also one of the most common causes of infertility or sub-fertility. With the right management, becoming pregnant can be a reality. PCOS is a disorder that is very responsive to some basic lifestyle changes. We are not suggesting that overhauling your life is either simple or easy so we are suggesting small steps that make a big difference.

We are breaking it down for you. Today’s subject is exercise- specifically how exercise plays into the cycle of PCOS and insulin resistance. The goal is first to start incorporating activity (if you aren’t already active) and then maintaining and even enjoying it!

Please refer back to older blog posts, such as PCOS Diet & Exercise Tips and How to Manage PCOS for the parts that food and diet plays.  And you can look forward to the second and third in this series on sleep and stress. 

PCOS Treatment Options with Exercise

In addition to a balanced approach to food, exercise should be considered as a first line intervention when dealing with PCOS. In women with an ideal BMI (18.5-24.9), exercise helps maintain a healthy weight. In women who are not currently at an ideal BMI (>25), exercise- especially in combination with balanced eating- can aid in weight loss. Even as little as a 5-10% loss of current weight can lead to big improvements. Exercise helps reduce insulin resistance (even in the absence of weight loss), improves ovulation, lowers androgens, and improves the metabolic profile resulting in decreased blood pressure, cholesterol, and abdominal fat. 

With exercise, there is no single best approach. The important thing is to get moving in such a way that is maintainable. Consistent activity is essential. If you currently do not exercise at all, start with small steps and focus on an achievable goal. Consider that two- 15 minute sessions are just as good as 30 minutes all at once. Even 10 minutes, 3 times a day has a remarkable effect on blood sugar and circulating insulin levels. The evidenced based recommendation is 150 minutes per week (30 minutes 5 days/week) with 90 minutes at an aerobic level of moderate to high intensity.  

If that goal sounds daunting, start with small steps. Some activity is better than none so start with 15 minutes of walking for five days and then perhaps increase the time or intensity. It has been estimated that the cost of lifestyle interventions is less than the cost of pharmacological intervention. Exercise IS the prescription!  

Additional Exercise Tips

  • Find an exercise buddy to meet at the gym or walk with during your lunch or after work.
  • A 10-15 minute walk after meals especially has a great effect on blood sugar and insulin levels 
  • Download podcasts or audiobooks that you are interested in hearing and would otherwise not listen to and put them on while you’re exercising
  • Plan your exercise the same way that you make time for the other essentials in your life, like brushing your teeth or showering.
  • Make a chart and give yourself a star for every time you exercise. Five stars a week and give yourself a non-food treat, such as a movie out with friends, an extra hour relaxing during the weekend, ten dollars to spend on itunes
  • Get free exercise dvd’s from the library and try them in the privacy of your own home
  • Get an app on your phone that tracks the steps that you take during the day. Set a realistic goal and see how you do.
  • A favorite- park further away and walk the extra steps where ever you go

About Ellie Downs, RN

Ellie is an RN with nearly 10 years of experience in Women's Health related fields. After spending 3 years as a labor and delivery nurse in South Carolina, Ellie and her husband moved to NYC where she spent 3 years working at a well-known fertility center. After another move and after taking some time off after her first child, Ellie joined the RMACT team in 2012 where she has been involved with the PCOS program as well as with patient education related to preconception and early pregnancy health and wellness. Personally and professionally health, wellness, and an active lifestyle are Ellie's passions.