Movement as Medicine for PCOS

Movement as Medicine for PCOS

What is Movement as Medicine?

For women with PCOS, most doctors recommend lifestyle changes to assist in managing symptoms. Much easier said than done!  Losing 10% of our current body weight can significantly reduce symptoms and help increase insulin sensitivity. But 50-60% of women with PCOS often report major difficulties when trying to lose those pounds. And many women with PCOS do not need to lose weight. The right type of movement is critical to heal from the symptoms of PCOS no matter what your weight because it helps to balance hormones and brain chemistry. This makes it a critical lifestyle habit to incorporate. But not all movement is good for PCOS. In fact, many types of exercise can make our symptoms worse. So what kind of movement is best?  What kind of movement is not as beneficial and why?

Why is it so hard to lose weight with PCOS?

Since we are taking control of our hormonal imbalance, we need to look at movement as medicine from a hormonal standpoint.  Right?  It is known that the major, underlying cause of PCOS is insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance is when our body produces insulin, but does not use it efficiently.  This disrupts the conversion of food to energy.  Unfortunately, this increases the amount of stored fats. When glucose cannot enter the cells efficiently, it remains in the bloodstream, causing elevated blood sugar. This excess blood sugar is sent to the liver where it converts to fat and is stored throughout the body. Yikes!!

If you are constantly struggling with insulin resistance, your body continues to send unabsorbed glucose into the blood stream, to the liver, where it gets turned into fat.  Despite our best efforts to exercise, the weight doesn’t come off.  Thankfully, insulin resistance can be reversed through the right lifestyle changes.

How does exercise affect our hormones?

When we engage in exercise, our bodies release hormones into the body.  These hormones signal to our bodies that we need to either use sugar or fat as fuel.   Drs. Jade & Keoni Teta in their book The Metabolic Effect Diet describes the perfect state of hormonal balance for our body to use its fat stores.  In short, we need to obtain this metabolic balance so that our hormones can use up the right source of energy. For example, if we eat sugar at a meal, our bodies will burn sugar after the meal (not fat).  However, if we burn sugar during a workout, we will burn fat after the workout.  Just like our hormones affect our PCOS symptoms, they also affect our calorie burning.  Cortisol, a steroid hormone, is released when we exercise.  When cortisol is introduced to our testosterone and growth hormones, our body blocks muscle breakdown and fat burning is enhanced.

What is the best exercise for women with PCOS?

We are taught that the more we sweat the better.  The more we are out of breathe, the better.  But is this true for women with PCOS?  Women with PCOS already have elevated cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a steroid hormone that triggers our “fight or flight” defense mechanism, insulin resistance, and inflammation.  This may be why women with PCOS have an increase in anxiety levels.  When we engage in strenuous, high intensity exercises, our bodies begin to pump out cortisol.  Our h