In the February 2016 issue of Fertility and Sterility, I came across an interesting study that I thought was applicable to my patients who struggle with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
For those of you unfamiliar with PCOS, The American Society for Reproductive Medicine lists it’s symptoms as irregular menstrual periods, obesity, excessive growth of central body hair (hirsutism), and infertility. There is also a strong association with PCOS, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.
The study concluded that those engaged in vigorous activity (75 minutes/week) had superior metabolic health data, regardless of amount of exercise, age and BMI. It worked out that for every 60 minutes of vigorous activity per week, there was a 22% reduction in the odds of metabolic syndrome. The interesting thing was that it compared patients who were doing more exercise (150 minutes/week) but at a lower intensity level.
Having been diagnosed with PCOS myself in my early 20’s, I found this study really fascinating. Even though I had always been fairly active, and able to maintain regular menstrual cycles with what I considered to be lower intensity workouts (leisurely runs and flow-style yoga classes). Running a practice and being a mother of two made those more time-intensive exercises a lot more difficult to squeeze in than they used to be! I was finding it really hard to get back into an exercise routine and my body was feeling it. I felt achy, and my energy was pretty low. I had been reading about high intensity interval training and how beneficial it can be for weight-loss as well as for overall whole-body health. Around the same time a friend of mine started running boot camp classes in the mornings. Her boot camp style classes involve timed body weight exercise, free weights, and usually some sort of sprinting or intensive cardio. And it made me feel AMAZING. I got trimmer, and my energy and my libido went up!
Alright, so now you are all probably saying “Perfect, HIIT workouts mean feeling great and getting healthier.” But remember that Chinese medicine is about restoring and maintaining balance.
So here are a few recommendations for incorporating HIIT into your exercise regimen:
1. Listen to your body – if you are feeling really tired, take a day off, but aim for doing something (even 10-15 minutes) everyday.
2. Don’t fuel your workouts on caffeine or sugar – in CM these substances give your body false energy….which can eventually lead to more imbalance than when you started!
3. Balance the Yin and Yang exercises – HIIT is basically the ultimate Yang exercise. High energy, fast, and intense. Great for your metabolic profile, but you still need to balance this with a more yin-type exercise such as a yoga or qigong. If you find yourself experiencing symptoms such dry eyes and skin, vaginal dryness, and hot flashes, you may need to cut back on the vigorous exercise and bring in more yin-type exercise.
4. Most importantly, try to find a type of vigorous exercise that you truly enjoy! My recommendations include spinning, boot camps, and interval running, In terms of my practice, exercise is always something I try to focus on with my PCOS patients, but my new goal is to get them to be doing high (or at least higher) intensity workouts in the hopes of improving their metabolic profile and, in turn, their fertility!
(1) E.A. Greenwood, M.W. Noel, C.-N Kao, K. Shinkai, L.A. Pasch, M.I. Cedars, and H.G.
Huddleston. “Vigorous Exercise is associated with superior metabolic profiles in polycystic ovary
syndrome independent of total exercise expenditure.” Fertility and Sterility 105.2 (2016): 486-