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I'm suffering from extreme cramping during my menstrual periods and my health club instructor told me that if I exercised more I wouldn't feel so bad. Is she right? Can exercise really make cramps disappear?


Waco, Texas

Exercise can be naturally tranquilizing and it is certainly a better painkiller than narcotic drugs. All women can benefit from personal fitness programs. As I mentioned before, an overweight woman has fatty tissue that produces excess estrogen, which, in turn, creates a thicker uterine lining, more bleeding, and, often, more cramps for her. It is always better to exercise and stay thin so that you keep your estrogen level down and you bleed only moderately.

I've recommended the following exercises from Exercise Plus in New York to my patients and they have reported good results. Olinda and Lazar Cedeno, founders of Exercise Plus, tell me that the exercises should be done every day. At least do them for the week before and during your period. Situate yourself on a floor mat or on carpeting. Here are Olinda's instructions:

Upper Back Stretch. Sit with your knees bent and legs crossed, Indian fashion. Clasp both hands behind your head and point your elbows out to the sides. Keep your chest raised, shoulders relaxed, eyes forward. Open your mouth slightly and breathe in for two slow counts. As you breathe out, pull in your stomach as much as you can, round your back, and drop your chin to your chest. Close your elbows together. Drop your chin further into your chest, pull in your stomach tighter, and stretch your upper back. Breathe in and rise up slowly to the original sitting position. Repeat the movement very slowly four times. On the fourth round, instead of returning to the original position, breathe in and out and begin stretching downward, aiming the top of your head toward the floor. Continue to round your back, pull in your stomach. Open your elbows. Breathe in and out with the downward stretch until your head practically touches the floor. Relax your arms and hands on the floor. Breathe in and out and with the head down, slowly roll up, vertebra by vertebra, to a sitting position.

Pelvic Tilt. Lie flat on your back with the vertebrae of your neck pressed against the floor. Bend both knees. Keep your feet flat and slightly apart. Keep your chin tucked and shoulders relaxed. Breathe in for two counts. As you breathe out, pull in your stomach, tilt pelvis under, press the small of your back to the floor, and squeeze your buttocks as tight as you can. Hold for two seconds. Breathe out and relax. Repeat eight times.

Comfort Pose. For relief of cramps any time during your period, lie flat on your back. Bend both knees to your chest, relax your feet, and clasp each knee with a hand. Pull your knees down toward your armpits. Open your mouth slightly and breathe in for two counts, out for two counts. Breathe in and out for ten rounds or as many times as necessary for pain relief. Foot rotations increase circulation during the comfort pose. Point your toes, circle outward and flex, five times. Point, circle inward and flex, five times.

These exercises work the stomach and lower back, and keep you breathing deeply, to help you cope with menstrual pain. Menstrual cramps are real, but so are the treatments for them.


Women's Health

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