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Physical Activity and the Menstrual Cycle: A Mixed-Methods Study of Women’s Experiences

Kolić, Petra V and Sims, David T and Hicks, Kirsty and Thomas, Laura and Morse, Christopher I (2021) Physical Activity and the Menstrual Cycle: A Mixed-Methods Study of Women’s Experiences. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal. ISSN 1063-6161

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Abstract

The menstrual cycle is an important biological process in women that is associated with a range of physical symptoms, which can shape how women think, feel, and participate in activities of daily life. This study employed a mixed-methods design to investigate adult women’s physical activity throughout the menstrual cycle. One hundred and twenty-eight participants completed an online questionnaire that explored events of the menstrual cycle (e.g., bleeding, pain, fatigue) and physical activity. Semistructured interviews with 21 questionnaire respondents unpacked individual experiences of physical activity throughout the menstrual cycle. From the questionnaire data, 44 participants were categorized as avoiders and 84 as nonavoiders of physical activity due to menstrual events. Avoiders of physical activity reported longer periods, heavier menstrual flow, and higher levels of fatigue and pain compared with nonavoiders. Interviews revealed that avoidance of physical activity ranged from complete avoidance to adaptation (e.g., types of exercise). Reasons for avoidance and adaptation of physical activity included menstrual symptoms, personal thoughts, and concerns about other people’s views of the period. The present study findings emphasize the importance of not only evaluating prevalent physical symptoms, but also unpacking women’s individual perspectives and established societal norms to better understand and normalize physical activity throughout the menstrual cycle.

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