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Many women with PCOS struggle with their weight, but research has shown that even losing a small percentage of body weight can improve symptoms and fertility. What exercises should you include in your routine if you have PCOS?

Women who suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, many of whom are overweight or obese, might want to lose weight. Exercise plays a big role in weight loss and maintenance, but what kinds of exercises are best if you have PCOS? 

The exact cause of PCOS remains a mystery, but we do know that insulin resistance and the excess production of androgens ("male" hormones) play a role. The good news is that any kind of exercise will help you address these factors. 

What do I get out of working out as a woman with PCOS?

One study of PCOS patients showed that doing cardio exercises for three hours a week over the course of 12 weeks helps reduce your cholesterol levels and abdominal fat, while having a positive impact on insulin sensitivity. While patients hoping to replicate these results might be disappointed that the study subjects didn't lose any weight, they shouldn't necessarily be. The results indicate that you can see reduced PCOS symptoms even without shedding any pounds! Let's take a look at the other benefits of exercise. 

Fat reduction

Working out, of course, burns calories — more than you took in, if you try, and that's what helps you lose weight. Research has demonstrated that women with PCOS are more likely to get pregnant if they lose even just a small amount of weight, between five and 10 percent of their total mass.

Boosting your insulin sensitivity

A lot of PCOS patients, whether or not they are overweight, have hyperinsulinemia — excess insulin in the blood — and insulin resistance. This can ultimately lead to high testosterone levels, which may in turn interfere with your menstrual cycle, lead to acne, and also cause hirsutism (excess hair growth in typically male areas). Working out — for instance strength training — will boost your insulin sensitivity, as well as reduce inflammation, which again has a positive impact on your insulin sensitivity.

A better hormonal balance

Exercising regularly lowers your adrenaline and cortisol levels and instead releases the feel-good chemical endorphin. That matters in several ways — not only will exercise have a positive impact on your physical well-being, it also reduces anxiety and depression, both common in women with PCOS. Working out may also help you with cholesterol, body composition, and the frequency of ovulation.

Now that that's out the way, what kinds of exercise should you actually be doing?

1. Try cardio

Cardio is a great type of exercise for PCOS patients — it helps you regulate your insulin levels, reduces mood swings, and may even help you get pregnant. Moderate exercise is enough to help you lose weight, so long as you work out regularly/.

You're fine no matter what kind of aerobic exercise you choose, so pick one you enjoy since you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Some examples are swimming, cycling, jogging, and fast walking. All of these workouts will help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. If you do about 30 minutes of cardio every day this will help you with your weight, reduce anxiety and depression if you suffer from them, and also help regulate your menstrual cycle and ovulation. PCOS sufferers who are planning to embark on an IVF journey can also benefit from exercise, as it will increase their success rates.

2. Strength training

Strength training can boost your metabolic rate, lower your insulin resistance, and it can reduce your percentage of body fat while increasing muscle. A slimmer body means you will have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

It doesn't have to involve weight lifting — exercises like squats, push-ups, and pull-ups  all count. Strength training doesn't mean you're going to look like a body builder, mind you! If you have stronger muscles, you will burn more calories when you are working out — and even hen you are resting. A good way to get slimmer is to mix resistance training with cardio workouts. 

A great way to burn calories and build your strength is including push-ups and squats in your workout routine. 

  • Squats give your core, back, butt, and thigh muscles a great workout — all at the same time. No wonder they're so popular! You'll be working muscles that you use every single day, for all sorts of things.
  • The push-up offers a very decent upper body workout, as push-ups are wonderful at making your upper-body stronger and also work your glutes, core, and leg muscles.

For some reason, a lot of women are convinced that they can’t to do push-ups. Don't be one of them, because that would make you wrong. Push-ups are actually pretty simple to do. People who can’t do push-ups when they first start should first work on their form by doing push-ups with their hands on a wall or a strong bench, and they'll get good at this workout in no time. 

3. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT is great for boosting your cardiovascular fitness, slimming down the old waistline, and getting you to a healthy body mass index or keeping you there. High intensity interval training combines short bursts of very intense exercise with less intense "recovery periods". It is one of the hottest things in the fitness world right now, and for good reason — HIIT burns calories really quickly and is great for excess abdominal fat. This kind of workout can help you lose the five to 10 percent of your total body weight studies have shown greatly reduces your PCOS symptoms.

4. Core strength training

Working your core is great for your whole body, helps you prevent injuries, and gets your body in the right shape to support a pregnancy. It is also important if you want a strong spine, both to combat the lower back pain often associated with being overweight, and to prevent injury. Training your pelvic floor muscles, meanwhile, lowers your risk of urinary incontinence later in life, and it is also excellent for women who would like to have a baby.

How often and how long should I work out?

PCOS sufferers should ideally engage in at least 150 minutes of exercise every week. This should include an hour and a half of moderate to intense cardio exercise, as well as strength training. In practical terms, this translates to half an hour of exercise five days a week. You can do three cardio, and two strength training sessions. If you find this tough at the beginning, you can choose to gradually work up to it.

To sum it up, try this unless your doctor says you shouldn't:

  • You should do strength training two to three days a week. Strength training is great for helping you with insulin sensitivity and metabolic function.
  • You should not do cardio for too long. If you do cardio for a long period of time it can stress your body and you definitely don’t want that! So try doing shorter but intense exercise — for instance a 20 minute interval workout. HIIT is especially great for women with PCOS.
  • You should, of course, move around every day, but exercising every day might make you tired. Rather than doing intense exercise try going for a stroll, yoga, or a nice ride on the bike.
  • Eating — enjoying healthy meals rich in fruits and veggies before you work out as well as after will give your body the energy it needs to exercise and recover. Don't skip this important step!

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