Exercise! For some, just hearing the term brings an energy boost and a feeling of invigoration. Others dread that word and cringe in a corner at the mere utterance.

If you’re dealing with uterine fibroids, you’re more likely to be in the latter group. While chances are your friends have added or are adding some form of exercise into their regular schedules, for women diagnosed with uterine fibroids, there exists the additional question of, “Is this REALLY good for me right now?” Is increased physical activity going to aggravate or alleviate the heavy bleeding and chronic pain that can plague women with fibroids?

Can exercise cause fibroids to bleed?

If you do exercise that puts increased pressure on your abdomen, that may cause bleeding if you have submucosal uterine fibroids (although this is still in the realm of speculation). Additionally – and this is the case for all women, unrelated to uterine fibroids – if you take on a more frequent or intense exercise schedule, it will have an impact on your hormones. This can cause breakthrough bleeding (bleeding outside of your period), although that should resolve itself in 2-3 months of consistent exercise with your new schedule.

Can exercise prevent fibroids?

Being overweight or obese can increase your chances of developing fibroids by 10-20%. So if all the other reasons to trim down weren’t enough – here’s another one! While overall health and weight can be improved by moderate exercise, vigorous exercise can have an even more direct impact on preventing fibroids. A study from the National Institutes of Health found that women who keep up a regular regimen of vigorous exercise (3 or more hours a week) reduce their risk of fibroids by 30-40%!

Can exercise cause or prevent fibroid-related pain?

Well, both.

During exercise, your body directs blood flow toward the organs involved in exercise: your heart, lungs and muscles. This comes at the expense of blood flow to other, unrelated organs. Under normal circumstances, your uterus is fine with this reduction in blood flow. Uterine fibroids, however, create an extensive network of blood vessels in order to nourish themselves. When exercise decreases the blood flow to your fibroids, they may experience pain, in the same way that heart muscles become painful when they are not getting enough blood flow during a heart attack.

On the other hand, the hormonal changes caused by regular exercise decrease the concentration of protoglandins, the hormones heavily responsible for causing uterine contractions and cramps. So regular exercise can, over time, contribute to decreased fibroid-related cramping and pain.

This isn’t only the case with fibroid-related pain. In scientific studies to test the impact of exercise on chronic pain, while improvement wasn’t reported at each and every step along the way, nearly all participants reported feeling physically better after having participated in an extended regimen of physical activity over a period of time. This is great news! It means that even through fibroids, we CAN help ourselves to feel more vibrant… more ALIVE!

How can heavy bleeding be held at bay long enough for exercise?

For many, just the thought of bleeding through clothing while moving around is enough to send them straight back to the couch for a movie marathon. For women experiencing heavy bleeding, there exists a real concern.

However (especially if the venue is at home) do your best to just get over the stigma. We all have washing machines and detergents these days work miracles. Go ahead, cover or move the white carpeting and take an example from marathon runners who are increasingly deciding that menstrual bleeding is a taboo that needs to be broken. Women bleed. It is what it is.

If bleeding through is absolutely not an option, try combining a tampon or menstrual cup plus two pads plus period panties, for extra protection and a feeling of security.

How can I exercise if my fibroids are causing me exhaustion?

Due to heavy bleeding, may women with fibroids are also diagnosed with a lack of iron, and anemia can cause exhaustion. Few completely exhausted women are interested in physical activity.

First of all, make sure your exhaustion is being addressed. Go to your doctor, do bloodwork, and get iron supplements if you need them.

Keep on top of the issue; don’t ignore it.

While you’re waiting to feel more perky, it may not be the time for a high intensity workout. But lower-intensity exercise like practicing yoga or taking a walk are definitely doable and will ultimately give you more energy than they zap from you. If neither of those sounds particularly appealing, scan listings at the local community center or gym to see what low-impact, slow-going options are available. It may be a bit hit or miss at the beginning, but you’ll thank yourself for putting in the effort.

Here’s hoping for more research, more progress and more success in treating uterine fibroids in order help women everywhere to be healthier, feel great and achieve their dreams!