It’s estimated that 1 in 10 women in the UK have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) with 90% expressing that they don’t feel the NHS provides sufficient support to help them deal with their PCOS.
Weight gain is incredibly easy due to abnormal hormonal levels in the body but losing weight will help your PCOS symptoms. Meta-analyses found that a 5-15% loss of body weight in overweight and obese people with PCOS improved most of their symptoms and other studies have shown that exercising without losing weight will still improve symptoms.
That is why getting fit with PCOS is so important. But exercising the way most people do is unlikely to work for you, your workout regime needs to be PCOS specific to get the best results.
Getting fit with PCOS
Resistance training, or weight training, is recommended for women with PCOS because it increases muscle mass. This will enhance the muscle’s ability to handle glucose and can result in an increased insulin sensitivity, which will help you manage your weight.
Weight training 2-3 times per week for 45-60 minutes should get results without overtraining your body, which can have a damaging effect on hormonal balances. Muscle is also metabolically active, meaning it burns calories to sustain itself, so the more muscle you have the more calories you will burn throughout the day, meaning more weight loss.
HIIT training, short for high-intensity interval training, is a cardio workout that alternates between short bursts of intense exercise and low- intensity exercise. An example is running at your maximum speed on a treadmill for 2 minutes followed by walking for 2 minutes.
HIIT workouts have proven effective for most people, but especially for women with PCOS. This is because it increases the body’s metabolic rate. One study found that HIIT over 10 weeks improved insulin resistance in women with PCOS, despite losing no weight.
So, if your goal is to become fitter and manage your PCOS better through exercise, then HIIT is ideal. HIIT is also beneficial because workouts can be done in a shorter time period and still burn as many calories as other workouts.
If you have a busy life or don’t enjoy exercising, HIIT will give you the benefits, burning up to 30% more calories than other cardio, without having to put too much time in.
Low intensity and moderate intensity workouts
While HIIT training is beneficial, the role of low-intensity and moderate intensity exercise shouldn’t go underrated. Low intensity exercise includes walking, going up and down stairs and doing housework. You can’t really do too much of these exercises as they simply get you moving but don’t put much strain on your body. Moderate intensity exercises, also known as steady-state exercise, include running, biking and using stair climbing machines at the gym.
With a PCOS diagnosis doing too much moderate intensity exercise can be damaging as the body will release the stress hormone cortisol in response to the stress you’re putting your body through. Cortisol can lead to increased appetite and cravings along with irritability and fatigue, all negatively impacting your fitness journey.
Ideally, you don’t want to do more than 30 minutes of moderate intensity training and only 1-2 times a week to avoid too much cortisol in your body.
As difficult as it is to lose weight with PCOS it’s important to remember that it is possible. You need to understand your body and how it reacts to different types of exercise and therefore, which will be most beneficial to you. Ignoring a lot of what you’ve been taught about exercise and making your training regime PCOS specific to suit your body will get you better results, improving your fitness, PCOS symptoms and even losing weight, which will in turn improve your symptoms even more.