PCOS and Exercise: How much and how often?

PCOS and Exercise: We’ve already looked at the benefits of exercise and have seen that it’s a really important aspect to managing our PCOS. But just how much exercise do we need and what is the best type of exercise for managing our PCOS?

Before we get into that, let’s recap on some of the benefits of exercise. Exercise has been shown to improve (1):

  • insulin sensitivity
  • frequency of ovulation
  • cholesterol
  • body composition

And remember, these benefits are independent of weight loss (you may not lose any weight while exercising but you will still feel the rewards of the above improvements).

 Exercise and PCOS: The Research

PCOS and exercise yogaSo, what does the research say about exercise and PCOS?

To be honest, there hasn’t been much research into the specific kinds of exercise that is beneficial for PCOS (or none that I could find after hours of trawling Google Scholar). There is a lot of information on exercise and PCOS as a whole but few suggestions of what kinds of exercises we should be doing. There is also a lot of research related to Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance but these articles don’t specifically look at PCOS.

One particular article found that the intensity, duration and type of exercise did not have any impact on the improvements in PCOS symptoms (2). The bottom line is that any form of exercise is helpful.

One of the main ways that exercise seems to help PCOS is the way in which it helps to manage glucose and insulin. Exercise causes glucose to be taken from the blood and moved into the muscles, lowering the need for insulin at that time and improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

Remember that if we can manage insulin, we are better able to manage testosterone, the cause of a lot of our PCOS symptoms.

So, we know exercise is crucial, but just how much and what is the best type of exercise?

Cardio vs. Strength training

Ideally, we should be doing a combination of strength and cardio training as both of these types of exercises give us different benefits (3).

Cardio training causes your heart rate to rise and it uses energy, increasing your total calories used, which will help with weight loss. It has also been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in women with PCOS (4).

Strength training, on the other hand, builds muscle which is important in raising your basal metabolic rate so that you burn more calories while at rest and while you are exercising.

So, bottom line is that we need to do a combination of strength and cardio exercise. But how much of each?

How much exercise do we need?

PCOS and exercise strengthAn Australian organisation dedicated to providing evidence-based guidelines for the management of PCOS, Jean Hailes, suggest that we should be doing 150 minutes of exercise per week, with 90
minutes of that being moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise (5). So, we’re looking at 30 minutes five times per week, with two of those sessions being resistance or strength training.

How to start and sustain an exercise programme

If you’re new to exercise, I wouldn’t be too worried about doing 150 minutes per week. Just get started! Finding a form of exercise that you enjoy is really important in making it sustainable. Here are some fun exercises you could consider:

  • Zumba
  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Aerobic classes
  • Cycling
  • Hiking or walking
  • Swimming


The options are endless really.

I have also found exercise DVD’s to be really helpful and I really enjoyed Jillian Michaels’ (she also has PCOS, by the way) “30 Day Shred” DVD. It’s something you can do at home and although it’s quite high intensity, the workouts are roughly 20 minutes each and I found I was able to incorporate that into my day.

Whatever you do decide to take up, keep at it and make sure that you are able to stick to it!

I’d love to hear about how you’re managing t fit exercise into your daily routine and if you have any suggestions of good exercises or DVD’s, please share them with the rest of us. Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

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