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A Deeper Understanding of Period Health

The menstrual cycle occurs every month. This series of hormone-driven events happen as a woman’s body goes through a number of changes as it prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. 

During each menstrual cycle, an egg develops and is released from the ovaries. As this occurs, the lining of the uterus begins to build up. When pregnancy does not happen, the uterine lining sheds. The shedding of the uterine lining is known as the menstrual period. 

At the end of the menstrual period, the cycle starts again. A woman’s menstrual cycle is divided into four phases: 

  1. Menstrual phase

  2. Follicular phase

  3. Ovulation phase

  4. Luteal phase

As every woman has a different menstrual experience, the length of each phase varies from woman to woman and may even change over time. 

Woman lying on a couch, appearing to have menstrual cramps
Image by stefamerpik on Freepik

Menstrual Phase

The menstrual phase is the first stage of the menstrual cycle. This is when your period starts.

This phase starts when an egg is not fertilized because pregnancy hasn’t taken place. The thickened lining of your uterus is shed and your period begins. 

The levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone drop. On average, women are in the menstrual phase for 3 to 7 days.

Symptoms

You may experience these period symptoms:

  • Cramps

  • Tender breasts

  • Bloating

  • Mood swings

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Tiredness 

Best Exercises

Light movements may be best during this stage. Pamper yourself and get as much rest as possible.

Focus on yin and kundalini yoga and opt for meditative walks through nature. 

Woman receiving a massage.
Image by Freepik

Self-Care

This stage is a good time to bring more calming self-care activities. Try treating yourself to a gentle Swedish massage to relax or a lymphatic drainage massage for period pain.

Using a heating pad on your abdomen, taking a warm bath, and stretching are good ways to ease period pain. 

Nutrition

Nourishing your body with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods will help support you during this stage.

Due to blood loss, iron-containing foods or an iron supplement are the most important.

Add foods filled with iron, antioxidants, and healthy fats to your meals. Some of these may be dark green leafy vegetables, berries, avocado, olive oil, lean meats, lentils, and beans. 

Stay away from inflammatory sugary foods but a few pieces of dark chocolate will help nourish your magnesium levels. 

Follicular Phase

The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period and ends when you begin to ovulate.

This phase starts when the hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary gland to release the follicle-stimulating hormone. This hormone stimulates your ovaries to produce around 5 to 20 follicles. Each follicle contains an immature egg. 

Only the healthiest egg will mature and the rest will be reabsorbed into your body. The matured follicle triggers a surge in estrogen that thickens the lining of the uterus. This creates a nutrient-rich environment for an embryo to grow. 

The average follicular phase lasts for about 16 days but can range from 11 to 27 days. 

Woman doing yoga.
Image by user18526052 on Freepik

Best Exercises

During this stage, it is best to stick to light cardio. Since your hormone and testosterone levels are low, it can cause low stamina. 

Stick to hiking, light runs, or more flow-based yoga that works up a sweat.

Self-Care

During this stage, your estrogen levels start to rise and you will experience a boost in your mood and energy levels. Take advantage of this extra energy by increasing your productivity and daily movement. 

Instead of relaxing solo and doing solo activities, try harnessing your bubbly social vibe by trying more extroverted activities like a movie night at home with your besties. 

Nutrition

During this phase, enjoy a normal balanced diet. Incorporate plenty of nourishing foods to provide nutrients to a maturing follicle. 

Include nutrient-dense foods in your diet like oats, artichokes, salads, carrots, eggs, broccoli, fruit, and nuts. Incorporate mineral-rich sea salt and water to help fight dehydration. 

Woman holding a paper cutout image of the female reproductive system.
Image by Freepik

Ovulation Phase

The ovulation phase starts when rising estrogen levels during the follicular phase trigger your pituitary gland to release the luteinizing hormone. 

Ovulation is when your ovary releases a mature egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus to be fertilized by sperm. The ovulation phase is the only time during your menstrual cycle when you can get pregnant. 

Ovulation happens around day 14 (right in the middle of your menstrual cycle) and lasts about 24 hours. After 24 hours, the egg will die or dissolve if it isn’t fertilized.

Symptoms

You may experience these symptoms:

  • A slight rise in basal body temperature

  • Thicker discharge that has the texture of egg whites

Best Exercises

During this stage, opt for high-intensity exercises. 

Your testosterone and estrogen levels are at their peak which maximizes your potential. Try high-intensity interval workouts or a spin class.

Self-Care

As your hormone levels reach their peak, you can take advantage of this sudden burst of confidence and energy by scheduling social activities. 

Gather your friends for a night out or a fun night in.

Yogurt with fresh raspberries and blueberries.
Image by wirestock on Freepik

Nutrition

During this phase you want to start supporting your detoxification pathways to make it easy to metabolize and eliminate the used hormones from your follicular phase.

Focus on liver-loving foods such as vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, and protein. Incorporate plenty of fiber and foods with natural probiotics like sauerkraut and coconut yogurt.

Luteal Phase

After the follicle releases its egg, it changes into the corpus luteum. This structure increases your hormone levels to keep your uterine lining thick and ready for a fertilized egg. 

If you get pregnant:

Your body will produce human chorionic gonadotropin which is the hormone that pregnancy tests detect. It helps maintain the corpus luteum and keeps the uterine lining thick.

If you do not get pregnant:

The corpus luteum will shrink away and be reabsorbed. This leads to the shredding of the uterine lining. 

The luteal phase lasts for 11 to 17 days. The average length is 14 days.

Symptoms

You may experience these symptoms if you do not get pregnant:

  • Bloating

  • Breast swelling, pain, or tenderness

  • Mood changes

  • Headaches

  • Weight gain

  • Changes in sexual desire

  • Food cravings

  • Trouble sleeping

Woman doing pilates.
Image by shurkin_son on Freepik

Best Exercises

As your body prepares for another period cycle, your energy levels may be low. As a result, try doing light to moderate exercises.

Try strength training, pilates, and more intense versions of yoga.

Self-Care

During this stage, you might find it helpful to fight any anxiety or stress through calming self-care activities. Try vinyasa and hatha yoga practices and guided meditations. 

Give your well-being a boost by opting for a deep tissue massage or giving yourself a facial. 

Nutrition

During this stage, include magnesium-rich foods while continuing to support your detox pathways.

Try including nuts, bananas, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, apples, peaches, chickpeas, beef, turkey, halibut, and avoid foods with too many added sugars. 

Written by Emma Suarez.

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