It is such a joy to see so many young girls participating in sports and taking a serious interest in the care of their body.
Exercise is one of the secrets to both mental and physical happiness but as with everything else about our body, there are limits. The extremes of too much exercise or too little exercise has consequences.
As women, our menstrual cycle is a delicate interplay of hormones that optimally function within a very narrow range. There are a variety of emotional and physical challenges that can upset the cycle and one of them is too much exercise.
Intense exercise over a period of time can have two negative impacts on the reproductive system.
- The intensity can produce physical stress. Stress, in turn, can interrupt the menstrual cycle.
- Intense exercise usually results in low body weight, which in turn interrupts the menstrual cycle.
What can our young female athletes expect to happen if their exercise plan is too intense or they lose too much weight?
They can begin experiencing irregular or missed periods and if they become too lean they might stop having periods altogether, which is called amenorrhea.
The brain controls the menstrual cycle, then the menstrual cycle maintains the timing of your periods. Hormone messages are continually traveling back and forth between the brain and the ovaries to make sure each day of the menstrual cycle is functioning properly. Excessive physical and nutritional stress interrupts this messaging system and irregular or missed periods result.
Another consequence that we do not often hear about is that when you experience inconsistent periods or no periods at all, estrogen levels go down. Estrogen helps to keep your bones strong so if this happens over a long period of time, there is an increased risk of bone fracture. The long-term effect on the bones into adulthood is still being investigated.
Supporting your body means respecting the limits that are optimal for its best function.
As your body begins to experience menstrual periods, it can take time for the periods to become consistent. You might have a period one month and then not have another one for a month or more. But if your periods have become consistent and then you notice a big change, you might want to get some advice from your doctor. It is a good idea to keep track of your periods on a calendar or using one of the great apps that are out there.
Remember, it’s all about balance when we consider the effect of hormones on our body.
By being in tune with how we feel and tracking events like periods, we can monitor our health and make great choices that keep us in balance.
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