Do you have PCOS? Well, you’re not alone.
Women with PCOS have to deal with a myriad of issues ranging from weight gain and abnormal menstrual cycles to excess hair growth and depression. (We feel your pain, ladies ☹)
But here’s the good news.
EXERCISE is the best way to wage war against PCOS. And nope, you don’t need any complicated gym equipment.
So if you’ve been looking for PCOS exercises at home, the best exercises for PCOS weight loss at home, or the worst exercises for PCOS, then read on!
What is PCOS and what are its symptoms?
PCOS is a condition that affects a woman’s hormonal levels.
For a woman to be diagnosed with PCOS she must have one or more of 3 issues including:
- Anovulation – lack of ovulation
- Hyperandrogenism – high levels of androgens such as testosterone
- Ovarian cysts – enlarged ovaries with several follicles (fluid-filled sacs) that surround the eggs
The most common symptoms of PCOS include
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Heavy bleeding during periods
- Weight gain / Obesity
- Hirsutism (Excessive body hair growth)
- Male pattern baldness
- Skin darkening
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How PCOS affects your body
PCOS causes various issues in women including:
1. Insulin resistance
Around 65 to 70% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the cells in your muscles, liver, and fat don’t respond properly to insulin and are unable to use glucose from your blood for energy. This forces your pancreas to produce more insulin.
Higher insulin levels lead to higher androgen levels which leads to abdominal weight gain. This in turn worsens your insulin resistance. (Yes, a vicious cycle indeed!)
Higher insulin levels in your body also lead to a spike in blood sugar levels that could potentially lead to diabetes.
As women with PCOS don’t ovulate regularly, they could have a hard time getting pregnant.
3. Endometrial cancer
Irregular periods mean the lining of your womb a.k.a. endometrium isn’t being shed every month. This leads to a thickening of the endometrium which is a risk factor for endometrial cancer.
4. Metabolic syndrome
Since most women with PCOS are obese, it also increases their chances of metabolic syndrome i.e. high blood pressure, low HDL, and high LDL cholesterol. All this could potentially lead to various health issues including heart disease and stroke.
Research shows that there is a strong link between PCOS and chronic inflammation. Women with PCOS often have abnormally high CRP levels (biomarkers of inflammation).
6. Sleep apnea
Women who are both obese and have PCOS are at high risk for sleep apnea (a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts).
As per a recent study published in the Frontiers in Psychiatry, 64.1 percent of women with PCOS were found to have depressive disorders. This comes as no surprise, considering the various symptoms associated with PCOS including obesity, unwanted hair growth, infertility, etc.
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Benefits of Home Workouts for PCOS
There are plenty of reasons why you should do PCOS exercises at home.
1. Improves insulin resistance
Evidence shows that vigorous-intensity exercises have a huge impact on insulin resistance, body composition, and cardiorespiratory fitness. Engaging in PCOS exercises at home for a minimum of 120 minutes a week can have a positive effect on women with PCOS.
2. Improves your hormonal balance
Doing PCOS exercises at home helps regularize your periods and lower your androgen levels, thus leading to a reduction in other PCOS symptoms such as excess hair growth, acne, depression, etc.
3. Helps fight obesity and inflammation
Doing PCOS exercises at home helps your body utilize its fat reserves, build muscle mass, and aid in weight loss. PCOS exercises at home also help reduce chronic inflammation.
4. Reduces risk of heart disease
When you practice PCOS exercises at home, it helps improve your glucose metabolism and lower your cholesterol levels which reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The Worst Exercises for PCOS
While there are no “worst exercises for PCOS”, here’s what you should remember.
Overtraining is one of the worst enemies of PCOS.
As per a study in Baltimore's Medicine Journal, it was seen that overindulging in any type of exercise can add more fuel to the fire by making your periods even more irregular (not at all what we want!) This occurs due to a rise in cortisol levels (stress hormone) that can throw your other hormones out of whack.
Overtraining can also result in a negative energy imbalance- meaning you’re burning a lot more energy than you’re consuming. While being in a calorie deficit is required for weight loss, being in an extreme deficit can lead to a complete hormonal imbalance.
Thus we recommend sticking to an exercise plan that is achievable along with following a healthy diet.
Best Exercises for PCOS
While you might only prefer doing certain types of exercises, experts recommend practicing a mix of various exercises for good hormone health.
Here are a few of the best exercises for PCOS.
A. Cardio exercise for PCOS
Cardio exercises are one of the best exercises for PCOS as they help fight all major PCOS symptoms including weight gain, insulin resistance, etc.
Cardio exercises for PCOS can help prevent the ill effects of cholesterol deposition in your arteries that could lead to various issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
We recommend having a balance of both steady-state cardio and vigorous-intensity cardio exercises for PCOS.
a. Steady-state cardio exercise for PCOS
Steady-state cardio exercise is where a continuous, moderate effort is maintained throughout the exercise for a long time. Examples of such moderate-intensity cardio exercises for PCOS would include walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, dancing, etc.
One of the biggest benefits of steady-state cardio exercise for PCOS is that you get all the benefits of physical activity without raising your cortisol levels.
Steady-state cardio is a great choice if you have PCOS, as it helps lower your stress levels, especially when done outdoors. Try doing 30-45 minutes of steady-state cardio once or twice a week to reap the benefits.
b. Vigorous-intensity cardio exercise for PCOS
Want to improve your insulin resistance? Then vigorous-intensity cardio exercises are your best bet.
As per a study published in the Frontiers of Psychology, it was seen that performing vigorous-intensity cardio activities for 120 minutes per week had a greater impact on insulin resistance and BMI as compared to moderately intense cardio exercises for PCOS-affected women.
Running, fast cycling, lap swimming, jump rope, etc. are all excellent options for vigorous-intensity cardio exercises for PCOS.
Here’s a cardio workout for PCOS that you can try at home:
B. Best exercises for PCOS weight loss at home
a. Strength training for PCOS
If you have PCOS but have never lifted weights or used resistance bands before, now’s the best time to start!
Strength training is one of the best exercises for PCOS weight loss at home as it increases your metabolic rate and burns calories long after your workout is over. Strength training also helps to reduce insulin resistance, inflammation, and cortisol levels.
According to a recent study, resistance training in women with PCOS was extremely effective in reducing the Free Androgen Index (testosterone levels) compared to other forms of exercise. The study also showed that both moderate and vigorous intensities of strength training had a positive impact and the higher the frequency of strength training, the better the results.
A few strength training exercises that you can include in your routine are squats, push-ups, lunges, glute bridges, etc. which can be done both with body weight and with resistance bands and dumbbells.
Check out this at-home strength training workout for PCOS.
b. HIIT for PCOS
Interval training that involves repeated bouts of high-intensity effort followed by periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise. That’s HIIT in a nutshell.
HIIT is one of the best exercises for PCOS weight loss. It’s also one of the most time-efficient ways to exercise and burns around 25-30% more calories than other forms of exercise.
As per a PLOS One study, it was seen that women with PCOS who did HIIT had a vast improvement in their insulin resistance. This is because HIIT makes your body go into EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) mode by creating an oxygen debt in your muscles. This means your body burns fat even after your workout. (Bye, bye PCOS belly fat!)
Studies also suggest that HIIT exercises reduce excess testosterone and increase HGH (Human Growth Hormone) which in turn improves your metabolic rate.
There are plenty of HIIT exercises for PCOS that you can try at home including air squats, jumping jacks, planks, etc. (For more HIIT exercises, check out our blog post here.)
Try to include 15-30 minute HIIT sessions twice or thrice a week for best results.
Get your sweat on with this HIIT for PCOS workout.
c. Mind-body exercises for PCOS
Sadly, most women with PCOS have to deal with depression, anxiety, and stress. But the good news is that you can tackle all these problems by engaging in mind-body exercises such as Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi.
Apart from helping to improve your balance, strength, and flexibility, these mind-body exercises are known to reduce stress and thereby alleviate the other symptoms of PCOS.
But that’s not all.
As per a 2020 study in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, women who took part in a mindful Yoga intervention not only saw improvements in their stress and anxiety levels but also had a drop in free testosterone levels.
Feeling low and tired? Yoga and Pilates can help with that too as they are known to regulate your hormones and energy levels.
Here’s a relaxing PCOS Yoga workout for you to try.
Tips for Exercising with PCOS
1. Start slow
If you’ve never exercised before, start SLOW. You could start with some moderate activities including walking, light swimming, light-weight lifting, recreational sports, etc.
Once your body adapts, you can move on to more vigorous forms of cardio exercises and HIIT.
2. Exercise regularly
Strive to exercise at least 30 minutes a day for a minimum of 4-5 times a week.
3. Have a good balance of various exercises
Don’t indulge in just one type of exercise, especially high-intensity exercises as this can disrupt your menstrual cycle even further.
Instead, balance out your exercise routine by having both high-intensity and low-intensity days. The split-up could be something like 2 days of cardio/HIIT, 2 days of strength training, and 1 day of mind-body exercises.
4. Focus on endurance
Ensure that your strength-training sessions are endurance-focused to maintain hormone balance. This means lifting lighter weights or using light resistance bands for a higher number of reps.
5. Listen to your body
If you feel unusually exhausted or stressed (particularly after high-intensity workouts), take your exercises down a notch. Not doing so could lead to more inflammation in your system which could make weight loss even more difficult.
Also, if you experience other PCOS symptoms such as pelvic pain, either rest or do gentle exercises. Seek medical help if your pain persists.
Exercise can be a real game changer when it comes to combating PCOS symptoms. Just by doing simple PCOS exercises at home (along with following a nutritious diet), you can make a huge difference in your quality of life.
Now that you’re aware of the best and worst exercises for PCOS weight loss, we hope you’ll incorporate the right mix of PCOS exercises into your workout routine for the best possible results.
Let’s kick PCOS to the curb!