Stress, PMS, exercise
 
PMS is a condition that plagues many women from puberty to menopause. Premenstrual syndrome describes the physical and psychological symptoms that often occur in the days before a menstrual period. Although in most cases the symptoms subside at the start of a period, they can last until a day or two after. Cramping, bloating, depression, water retention and general moodiness make this a period of dread, not only for the sufferer, but most often, also for those close to her. Mood swings can range in severity from a slightly elevated sensitivity that makes dealing with others a little more of a challenge, to an extreme overreaction when faced with any perceived adversity. Outbursts of rage followed by floods of tears and remorse are also not uncommon. Comedians and males in general may joke about the need to tread on eggshells around this time, but the laughter highlights just how widespread the condition is. So exactly what is it that causes this monthly irrational behaviour, and is there help to be found?

Contributing Factors

The rise and fall in the level of hormones such as progesterone and oestrogen during the menstrual cycle is generally accepted as a major contributing factor of PMS. Scientists base this on the fact that symptoms are greatly improved during pregnancy and when hormone levels have stabilised. Women who have reached menopause also seem far less likely to suffer the effects of PMS. Changes in hormone levels are also suspected of causing an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain, which are responsible for regulating psychological wellbeing. One of these is serotonin.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means that it carries signals between nerve cells. Many scientists believe that this chemical is largely responsible for producing a feeling of wellbeing and happiness, so that any deficiency can lead to depression. However, there is no hard evidence of this, as serotonin levels can only be measured in the bloodstream, and not within the brain. Therefore, researchers cannot assume that serotonin levels in the bloodstream are equal to those in the brain. What is known is that certain types of antidepressants that increase serotonin levels prove very effective with some PMS sufferers. Bad eating habits and obesity are also blamed for an increase in general stress-related conditions.

Obesity and Stress

You are considered obese if you have a body mass index of more than 30, which would usually indicate a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. If a lack of proper nutrition generally leaves one feeling sluggish, lethargic and depressed, then it is easy to see why, when coupled with hormone fluctuations, these feelings are compounded at the onset of a menstrual period. Fat cells are also known to produce oestrogen, which further disrupts the hormone balance and worsens the symptoms of PMS. It is vital to follow a diet that is particularly kind to the heart, and there is an endless amount of dietary assistance to be found from reputable sources on the internet. Then, of course, there is that all-too-often dreaded word; exercise.

The Surest Cure for What Ails Us

Enough can never be said about the miraculous results that regular exercise has on the body with regard to a general feeling of wellbeing. It cleanses the lymph system, so that the body disposes of toxins more easily, increases the metabolic rate and promotes a healthier hormonal balance. Most importantly, it increases the production of endorphins in the body. This is the chemical responsible for those feelings of euphoria when we are happy, as well as being a natural pain reliever. Because of this, exercise is the most prescribed method of beating, or at least greatly alleviating, the symptoms of pre-menstrual stress. I have heard it said that if exercise could be bottled and sold as a remedy for a multitude of health conditions, then many of these could be eliminated.

What Type of Exercise

Here again, it is the heart that is central to truly beneficial exercise. Therefore, aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, running and cycling are ideal. They are intended to get the maximum heart rate up, but also to bring the resting heart rate down. A lower resting heart rate means that the heart is more easily able to distribute oxygen and nutrients to the body. Together with the benefits of the release of endorphins, this has a dramatic impact on fighting stress. Those who are serious about fitness and health often use hand-held ECGs to monitor their progress. It provides vital information regarding the heart’s response to an exercise programme. They are also able to monitor the changes to their body mass index over time. With reduced fat cells leading to less surplus oestrogen being produced, it is all-round good news for women suffering from PMS. 

Conclusion

With the massive benefits known to result from exercise, it is by far the simplest solution to stress reduction. With PMS affecting all of the people who have close contact with women who suffer from it, the benefits of exercising should motivate family members or friends to participate in exercise programmes together. Their lives would not only be physically healthier, but on far sounder ground psychologically. Unless otherwise advised by a health provider, it certainly beats relying on medication to keep women on an even keel during the menstrual cycle, while the stress-relieving benefits of exercise will apply equally to all.