Riddle me this? What visits once a month, sometimes overstays its welcome, can be a pain in the neck (or more likely in the breasts and lower abdomen) and has female-bodied women between the ages of 12 and 51 often rolling their eyes or sighing heavily?
If a relative comes to mind, my sincerest apologies, but I’m referring to your period. Or “Aunt Flo” or “That time of the month” or “Shark Week.”
OK, I’ll stop. Do you find it interesting that there are over 20 slang terms for being “on the rag” (see what I did there)? My own name, “Carrie”, is one of them. I knew I was born to teach period education!
While euphemisms can make it easier to talk about more “taboo” topics, they also imply that our menstrual cycles are something to be ashamed of or hidden from others. I mean, how many of us have slipped a tampon into our shirt sleeve or back pocket like Houdini?! You can’t see me but I’m raising my hand, and I’ll keep it up for using this space to also share some reasons our bodies are AMAZING and why we should be PROUD to get our periods!
First of all, did you know you have all the eggs you’ll ever have (6-7 million) by 20 weeks gestation? That means that if you choose to have a child, your offspring will have also spent some time in your own mother’s body at some point. By the time you’re born, that number reduces to 1-2 million, by the time you’ve reached puberty you’ll have approximately 300,000 eggs left, and by the time you reach your early to mid-50’s you will not have any of your own eggs left.
Even though you have an “army” of eggs, only 300-400 will ever be called into action. The sac that contains an egg is called a follicle and although the follicular phase of your cycle only lasts 2-3 weeks, it takes 100 days for your follicles to complete their race to ovulation.
As Dr. Lara Briden says in her book Period Repair Manual, “If your follicles were unhealthy for any part of that maturation process, the result could be a period problem months later. When you see it this way, you can understand why period health is a long-term project. Your period problem now could be the result of something that was happening with your health months ago.”
One follicle will win the race and release an egg, and then as a reward, the emptied follicle gets to transform into a temporary endocrine gland called the corpus luteum where it will secrete the key hormone for period health: progesterone.
Progesterone has so many benefits for your body. Besides just counterbalancing estrogen, it also reduces inflammation, builds muscle, promotes sleep, protects against heart disease, and makes it easier for you to deal with stress. This is one reason why women need to think long and hard about whether hormonal birth control is the best option. Most hormonal birth control contains progestin (NOT the same as progesterone) and can keep us from ovulating and thus experiencing the benefits released by the corpus luteum.
The follicular phase is just one of the four phases of your cycle (follicular, ovulation, luteal, menstruation) and each one is marked by a rise and fall of hormones that cause a variety of physical and emotional changes in the body. For example, women are more “primed” to want to have sex around ovulation, and evolutionarily speaking that is beneficial since fertility is at its highest during this phase.
According to Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley in their book 28 Days Lighter Diet, progesterone makes you a homebody in the Pre-Menstruation phase that occurs in the week prior to the onset of menstruation. Many of us will crave solitude (defined as being along without being lonely) where we have permission to not overextend ourselves socially. After all, we are shedding more than just blood during our periods, we are letting go of a month’s worth of pent up emotions as well.
Barrett and Hanley say “During this highly intuitive time, your true thoughts are right at the surface. If you acknowledge them and give them a healthy form of expression, you can make important decisions and changes now that would seem impolite or uncool at other times of the month.” Perhaps the solitude we crave in pre-menstruation could be used to ask ourselves what we’re not saying or doing throughout the month that might change our lives for the better.
If you pause for a moment and appreciate the orchestra of events happening in your body to bring about your period each month, maybe you’d see menstruation as your “Monthly Friend” instead of “Code Red.”
Do you feel the pressure of New Year’s Resolutions knocking on your door? And not the knock on the door from yesteryear that would be met with a friendly hello and a warm cup of coffee. But, rather, like the unexpected knock of this day and age that is met by impending doom, a timid peek from behind the blinds, as we glance nervously around our messy homes and catalog the unacceptable state we are in? Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be the inconvenient and unwelcome houseguest we don’t want to let in.
In one study, “Get more exercise” was tied for first place with “Eat Healthier” and “Save More Money” in terms of most popular New Year’s Resolutions of 2018. Chances are, it will top people’s lists this year as well.
Why does this goal seem so daunting to some? Easy. Our culture and society are designed to make us move as little as possible. It’s not all our fault. For example, with Door Dash, and Uber Eats, and Instacart, and Amazon it’s becoming even easier to order food and groceries and gifts and have them shipped directly to our door requiring only a short walk from the couch. I’m certainly not against these modern conveniences that allow us to spend more of our “free” time with the ones we love. But are we? Or are we replacing that time with an extra hour of seated work, an extra hour of surfing social media, an extra hour of catching up on our favorite shows, etc..
Just look in your kitchen for evidence of how we outsource the work of our bodies to devices and machines. Where we used to use mortar and pestle to grind ingredients into a powder or paste, we now have blenders and Ninjas and Vitamix machines that do the work for us with the push of a button. Where we used to whisk and stir we now have handheld mixers and Kitchen Aids/ Heck, we don’t even turn a key in a lock much anymore. There are touchpad entries, garage door openers, and automatic start vehicles.
None of these modern conveniences is harmful to our health unless the time we save by using them isn’t replenished with another type of movement.
So where do we begin?
First, we need to reframe the word “exercise” which to some implies one hour of uninterrupted sweat time with a matching workout outfit and perfectly pulled back hair. I’d rather us start smaller, with a vow to just simply move more.
Next, shift your perspective. We generally understand that you can’t eat kale for breakfast and then fast food for lunch and dinner and expect that to equal a nutritionally satisfactory daily profile. But sometimes we miss the boat in exercise. We’ll work our butts off for an hour sweat session but then slump into our cars as we drive home, collapse over our laptops and devices all day, droop over our meal plates, and finally sink into the couch at the end of the day with a pat on the back for the healthy exercise we did that morning. Our bodies don’t operate this way. They respond to the forces we place on them all day long.
Here are some simple suggestions for making some deposits of nutritional movement throughout your day!
Take inventory of how much you’re sitting every day.
Start by taking this sitting inventory to determine how much you are sitting on average each day. Because “sitting is the new smoking” perhaps we should strive to lessen our sitting time. If your workstation is flexible, can you stand for a bit (like during phone calls or while checking emails)? Here’s the super affordable (and rolling) standing workstation I’ve been using for years!
Properly align your body while driving.
We all drive, some of us more than others. Properly aligning your body as you drive counts as “exercise” in my book. If your ribs and pelvis are in neutral alignment, the muscles that originate and insert into them are at their optimal length-tension relationship and technically working as you drive.
Two driving pitfalls people make are tucking their tailbones underneath and sitting in a slouch and inadvertently “sucking in,” creating downward pressure on the pelvic organs. Instead, position your bottom as far back in the seat as you can, being sure you are putting equal pressure on the right and left sit bone. Tuck your pelvis under, then arch your back, then finally settle into a “goldilocks” position that is not too tucked, not too arched, but just right. Work your way up to your ribs imagining your ribs like a bell swinging off your shoulder. Your goal is to achieve a quiet bell (not rung up or down).
Next stack your ear lobes over your shoulders and double-check that you’re not sucking in your belly! Now here’s the secret. Adjust the rearview mirror with your new, beautiful posture and DO NOT let yourself touch it again. If halfway through your ride you don’t see the car behind you in the rearview mirror it should be a reminder that you’ve lost your neutral alignment and make the correction with your body, not the mirror.
Need to clean your house? Turn it into a game!
Set a timer for 15 minutes per room and really put your whole body into it. For example, when tackling my kitchen, I’ll turn on my favorite tunes, set the timer for 15 minutes and quite literally sprint around the room.
First I’ll pick up all the clutter and things that don’t belong in the kitchen: random Nerf darts, my daughter’s retainer (ewwww!), a wayward sock (where do their partner’s go?!), backpacks, shoes, last week’s junk mail, you get the point!
Next, I fill a bucket with soapy water and scrub the counters with all my might. By now I’ve worked up a sweat as I grab the broom and sweep furiously. Shoot, 5 minutes left on the clock! I sprint into the laundry room for the wet mop… the one that requires quite a bit of elbow grease to get the sticky spots on the floor out. I finish just in time to set the timer for another 15 minutes for the living room/dining room/foyer.
Turn your house into your gym.
Make a vow that you will do one “counter” series of exercises during at least 1 meal per day. Here’s a great example. I’m using a bench but you could just as easily be at your kitchen counter, on the back of a couch, using the bathroom vanity, or behind a chair. The exercise is only 5 minutes long, too! We all have 5 minutes and I promise your legs will be burning and your heart rate will increase. No workout outfit, ponytail, or special equipment required!!!
Wait, you say 5 minutes is just TOO much to ask too? How about TWO minutes? Try this next video of one of my favorite shoulder toning sequences. You only need a 1# or 2# canned good (or bottle of wine!) and 2 minutes!
I understand the list of excuses that can stack up when setting an exercise resolution or goal. Some of us are trapped under small babies and would trade 15 extra minutes of sleep for exercise any day of the week. And many of us are developing rigor mortis in the front seat of the car as we schlep our brood from one activity to another. Others of us haven’t exercised in so long (or ever) that it’s really hard to work up the motivation.
What’s the answer? Open the door just a crack, and invite your old pal, movement, back into your home. So instead of grandiose resolutions this year, make your intention to just move a little more of you a little more each day.
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