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The Role of Exercise in PCOS Management

Woman with serious expressionThis article was written by Jenna O’Neil, who is an experienced exercise physiologist at Perth Exercise Physiology

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS for short) affects around 8% of Australian women. PCOS is attributable to a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors which create a hormonal imbalance leading to PCOS. The hormonal imbalance which creates the environment for PCOS includes a combination of both insulin resistance and elevated levels of androgens. Complications of PCOS include male-like hair growth, being overweight or obese, complete cessation or irregularity of menstrual periods, acne, infertility, and issues with body image, self-esteem, anxiety and depression. Insulin resistance, being overweight and obese are typical concerns within the exercise physiology realm, as PCOS increases the risk of developing the cardiovascular or metabolic disease.

pcos-symptoms-chart
Typical treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome involves a combination of both dietary, exercise and pharmacological intervention. So how does exercise help in the management of PCOS?

Combating Insulin Resistance

Exercise, both aerobic and resistance training assists to decrease the body’s insulin resistance and thus assists to restore normal hormone levels within the body. Exercise helps to lower glucose levels by allowing more glucose to enter the cell independently of insulin, through a different mechanism involving calcium. It also increases the person’s muscle mass increasing the glucose disposal capacity of the individual. If the exercise is intense enough, it also empties glycogen (sugar) stores from within the muscles, which need to be replaced afterwards. Exercise will also assist to decrease belly fat, which in turn will assist in decreasing insulin resistance.

Achieving A Healthy Weight

Exercise assists to elevate the metabolism through increasing the person’s muscle mass. Muscle requires more calories compared to fat to function, therefore the person will be burning extra calories even during rest if they have a greater muscle mass. Exercise will burn extra calories during and after the exercise further assisting to attain a healthy weight.

Improving mental wellbeing

Exercise will help to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety and boost self-esteem and body-image. This is via the release of the body’s own endorphins during physical activity and by achieving self-efficacy and boosting self-confidence by completing the exercise and proving to themselves that they can do it. It will also assist the patient to achieve positive alterations in body composition, increasing the likelihood of themselves being happy with their appearance. Decreasing the likelihood of developing cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

Because exercise decreases insulin resistance and assists to attain a healthy weight, it will, therefore, decrease the likelihood of the person with PCOS developing Type 2 Diabetes. By decreasing insulin resistance, decreasing belly fat, attaining a healthy weight and achieving the minimum guidelines for physical activity this will decrease the likelihood of the individual developing cardiovascular disease.

Improved menstrual cycle and fertility

Because exercise assists to normalise the PCOS women’s hormone profile, it will assist in improving their menstrual cycle and chances of having a successful pregnancy.

If you are suffering from PCOS and would like to help to design an effective exercise intervention to help with your condition, please visit Perth Exercise Physiology.

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