PCOS and Exercise

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September 24, 2018
PCOS and exercise, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto

We all know that exercise is helpful in general, and that is especially true for those living with PCOS. Exercise may improve ovulation, insulin resistance and promote weight loss. Yet, it’s hard to say which type of exercise, the intensity, and how much PCOS-ers should be doing.  

Types of Exercise

Resistance Training

Resistance training (also known as weight or strength training) requires the body (muscles) to push against force that is practised against it. This includes bodyweight exercises, plyometrics, use of resistance bands, free weights or machine equipment. Resistance training is thought to be beneficial to PCOS-ers because it can improve insulin resistance, glucose metabolism and resting metabolic rate, lowers body fat and increases lean muscle mass. 

One study looked at progressive resistance training in women with PCOS. Women in the intervention group exercised for 1 hour per day, 3 times a week for 4 months. Exercises included: bench presses, leg extensions, front lat pull-downs, leg curls, lateral raises, leg presses (45 degrees), triceps pulleys, calf leg presses, arm curls, and abdominal exercises executed in alternating segments. At the end of this study, the women with PCOS experienced weight loss and increased muscle mass, lowered androgen levels, increased reproductive function, but no significant changes to insulin resistance.  

The 2015 Almenning study also evaluated strength training compared to HIIT in women with PCOS, and also found that at the end of the study while there was an improvement in body composition, there were not any changes to insulin resistance. 

Aerobic Exercise

A 2018 study looked at aerobic exercise in women with PCOS. Participants performed 40 minutes of exercise (including 5 minutes of warm up and 5 minutes of cool down), 3 times a week for 16 weeks. The exercise group completed their supervised exercise outside on a track. Interestingly enough, the study does not explicitly state what exercise the control group did, however it may have been unsupervised exercise for 150 minutes per week (this is what I am guessing).

Results demonstrated that there was an improvement in the health-quality of life score, an improved cardiometabolic profile, reduced BMI and waist circumference, and overall positive response doing exercise. However, no changes were seen in fasting glucose or insulin or HOMA-IR values in both control and exercise groups. 

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

In men with insulin resistance, studies have shown that HIIT has had a positive impact overall, compared to continuous training (think walking or running). 

One study looked  at HIIT in women with PCOS. These women participated in a 10-week program where they would do HIIT three times a week. Two sessions were 4×4 minutes of HIIT at 90-95% of their maximum heart rate, separated by 3 minutes of moderate intensity exercise around 70% of their maximum heart rate. The last session was 10×1 minute of maximum intensity HIIT separated by 1 minute of rest or low activity. Mode of exercise was dependent on the individual, but could be the treadmill, outdoor walking/running/cycling. The control group were simply advised to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.  

The primary outcome of this study was to measure the change in insulin resistance (via the HOMA-IR value) from baseline to post-intervention. In the group who did HIIT, IR values significantly improved (specifically fasting insulin), as well as overall body composition. 

PCOS and yoga, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto


So far the only studies looking at the effect of yoga on PCOS, have been done in adolescent girls. In previous studies, yoga has been studied in men and with poor insulin sensitivity as well as in people with obesity and diabetes.  

A 2012 study looked at adolescent girls and the effects of yoga on glucose and insulin levels. Girls were divided into 2 groups – 1 which practiced yoga (1 hour a day for 12 weeks), and the other which practiced conventional physical exercises. At the end of the 12 weeks, there was reduction in fasting blood glucose in the yoga group as well as a drop in the HOMA-IR score of 0.38. The control group actually had an increase in their HOMA-IR score of 0.29. 

A 2013 study by the same authors looked at the effects of yoga in adolescent women, but this time specifically looking at endocrine parameters (Anti-mullerian hormone (AMH), luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), testosterone, prolactin, body–mass index (BMI), hirsutism, and menstrual frequency) before and after 12 weeks. Adolescents in the yoga study practiced for 1 hour per day for 12 weeks, while the other group simply practiced conventional physical exercises. At the end of the 12 weeks, they found that yoga was better at reducing AMH, LH, and testosterone and improving menstrual frequency. 

Final Thoughts

You obviously have your pick when it comes to exercise. I would choose something based on what you like to do (if you hate yoga, don’t do it) and what your goals are. I personally want to decrease my HOMA-IR value, so choosing HIIT and yoga might be the way to go for me. 

Something important to keep in mind is that exercise is not the be-all and end-all of treatment. In fact, doing too much exercise may impair your adrenal glands, causing more inflammation, thereby causing more insulin resistance. Sometimes taking it easy is key, and doing gentle exercises (ie. walking, yoga) will your best bet in your path of healing. 

Exercising Tips

One of my favourite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has some tips when it comes to sticking with exercise. Some of my favourites are:

  • Plan exercise with a friend who will not be happy if you don’t show up

  • If you’re travelling, figure out how you will schedule in some exercise

  • Keep track of how much you exercise (ie. I put stickers on my recycling calendar)

  • Pair activities (ie. Watching Netflix? Exercise at the same time)

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KOGURE, G., MIRANDA-FURTADO, C., SILVA, R., MELO, A., FERRIANI, R., DE SÁ, M. and REIS, R. (2016). Resistance Exercise Impacts Lean Muscle Mass in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(4), pp.589-598.

Almenning, I., Rieber-Mohn, A., Lundgren, K., Shetelig Løvvik, T., Garnæs, K. and Moholdt, T. (2015). Effects of High Intensity Interval Training and Strength Training on Metabolic, Cardiovascular and Hormonal Outcomes in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Pilot Study. 
PLOS ONE, 10(9), p.e0138793.

COSTA, E., DE SÁ, J., STEPTO, N., COSTA, I., FARIAS-JUNIOR, L., MOREIRA, S., SOARES, E., LEMOS, T., BROWNE, R. and AZEVEDO, G. (2018). Aerobic Training Improves Quality of Life in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 50(7), pp.1357-1366.

Nidhi, R., Padmalatha, V., Nagarathna, R. and Ram, A. (2012). Effect of a yoga program on glucose metabolism and blood lipid levels in adolescent girls with polycystic ovary syndrome. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 118(1), pp.37-41.

Nidhi, R., Padmalatha, V., Nagarathna, R. and Amritanshu, R. (2013). Effects of a Holistic Yoga Program on Endocrine Parameters in Adolescents with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(2), pp.153-160.

Improving Period Pain with Yoga

May 7, 2018
period pain and yoga, dysmenorrhea yoga, period cramps, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto

Whenever clients come to my office with period pain complaints, they usually expect to have some dietary and herbal recommendations. As I’ve been doing more research to see what other therapies would be helpful for this all too common condition, I’ve come across some research investigating yoga as a therapy for period pain. 

What the research says about period pain and yoga

There have been three studies looking at the effects of yoga on period pain. All studies looked at three specific poses – practiced alone or with others and results have shown an improvement in pain duration, pain intensity, and quality of life.  

The three specific poses that were studied were: cobra, cat, and fish pose. The duration of the yoga practice ranged between 20 minutes a day to 60 minutes once a week, and length of treatment ranged between 2 to 3 months respectively. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a follow-up in any of the studies to determine the lasting effects. Also, the studies did not keep track of any pharmaceutical use between the yoga groups and controls. 

yoga period pain, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto 

Cobra Pose

This energizing pose, helps to increase circulation within the lower back and pelvic, and provide them with a fresh supply of blood.  

How do do this pose

Start by laying facedown with your forehead on the mat. Your feet should be close together with pointed toes. Place your hands beneath your shoulders, palms down and elbows tucked next to the your body.

Inhale and curl your upper body off the floor 2 to 3 inches as you slowly raise your forehead, nose, chin, shoulders, and chest. Your pelvis should remain on the floor.

Return to a neutral position by, slowly releasing your upper body back onto the floor.

Cat Pose

Often seen as a warm up stretch (paired up as cat-cow pose), this pose helps to increase the flexibility and strength of the spine and improve circulation overall. 

How do do this pose

Kneel in neutral “table position,” with your knees under hips and arms beneath the your shoulders. Your back should be flat, and face should be looking down at the floor. 

Exhale and slowly drop your head and tailbone. Arch your back and exhale further as you pull your navel up toward your spine

Fish Pose

This pose helps to stimulate the pelvic organs (like your uterus!). 

How do do this pose

With your legs extended and closed together, lie on your back. Your hands should be palm down, underneath your tailbone. 

On an inhalation, lift your upper body onto your elbows and bend your neck backward. You can rest the crown of your head on the mat. At this point, your back should be arched. Ensure your weight is mainly on your elbows, not your neck. Press both sitting bones firmly into the floor.

Return a neutral position by pressing your elbows onto the floor. Gently lift your head, tuck your chin, and lower your upper body

Note: This pose may be a bit more labour intensive than the others, if you practice yoga at a studio, you may want to ask your teacher to help you achieve the proper position of this pose, or how to modify it. 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to period pain, there are so many tools available to help alleviate pain. My go to recommendations are usually going dairy-free as well as acupuncture (my favourite!). But incorporating yoga is an easy at-home treatment. You can likely start to practice these poses before and during your cycle! 

Of course, if you’re finding that you need some additional support or guidance, certainly feel free to contact me to see how I can I help with your period pain!


Rakhshaee Z. Effect of Three Yoga Poses (Cobra, Cat and Fish Poses) in Women with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Randomized Clinical Trial. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2011;24(4):192-196. doi:10.1016/j.jpag.2011.01.059.

Yonglitthipagon P, Muansiangsai S, Wongkhumngern W et al. Effect of yoga on the menstrual pain, physical fitness, and quality of life of young women with primary dysmenorrhea. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2017;21(4):840-846. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2017.01.014.

Yang N, Kim S. Effects of a Yoga Program on Menstrual Cramps and Menstrual Distress in Undergraduate Students with Primary Dysmenorrhea: A Single-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2016. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0058.

Miller O. Essential Yoga. Chronicle Books; 2014.

Passport to Prana: Moksha Thornhill

Written by   in 
October 21, 2013
Passport to Prana

A few months back I purchased a Passport to Prana, hoping to expand my love for yoga and try out different studios across Toronto (with the added bonus of hanging out with my friends). It’s a great program designed to not only make yoga more accessible to others, but to share the benefits of yoga, at only $30 per year. The passport gets you entry into one yoga class at participating yoga studios (more than 40 participating studios in Toronto, not including  those in Ajax, Vaughan, etc.).

I finally had the opportunity to use this card during midterm week (the perks of having an entire day off and only 3 exams!), and checked out Yoga Barre at Moksha Thornhill with Carmelinda. Thinking that it was just going to be a lot of stretching, I convinced one of my friends to come – boy was I wrong (Sorry L!).

Yoga Barre is a class aimed to build muscle tone through the combination of dance conditioning and interval training. It was the workout that I never knew I needed. We essentially started out on the mat with sun salutations and a few flows, and then moved to the barre where we worked (what seemed to be) every single muscle in our legs. After praying for my aching gatrocs and soleus muscles, we returned to the mat to finish some core stretches.

The studio itself is absolutely gorgeous and welcoming, and offers an abundance of services – spa, osteopathy, naturopathy (one of the supervisors at our school actually practices here!), to name a few. This wasn’t a surprise considering it’s the sister studio of Moksha North York, my regular yoga destination.

Overall, I would highly recommend not only attending Yoga Barre with Carmelinda, but also purchasing the Passport to Prana. It makes a wonderful day out with friends and allows you the opportunity to practice with various teachers and try different forms of yoga!