Talking Taboo Topics | Periods in Physical Activity | IWD2021

By Lauren Ramsay, Sport and Active Communities

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘choose to challenge’. Challenging societal issues is the key to making a change.

Period’s are a natural part of life that society still indicates should be kept private. Women will know that periods make the thought of exercising so daunting – whether it’s because of pain, hormones or lack of energy. Life really feels like it needs to stop for a few days.

But unfortunately, it doesn’t. You can’t take a week off studying or work once a month, so don’t let periods stop you from doing the thing that will make you feel good, even at such a frustrating time… exercise.

Although the body’s natural cycle can affect mood, performance and anxiety levels, listening to your body and overcoming mental blockages is the key to making yourself feel good.

We spoke to students, alumni and staff about their experiences when exercising with their menstrual cycle, and how they learned to overcome barriers.

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge”


Emily – MA Forensic Psychology

“Monday. Training day. I felt like I was going to be sick, I could barely eat. The last thing I wanted to do was go and run around on a hockey pitch. But as the captain of the team, I felt like it was my duty to show up; I owed it to the ladies team and myself, to be strong and be present. I actually ended up feeling pretty good afterwards. From that experience, I have learned that moving your body on your period is one of the greatest medicines out there.”

Grace – LLM Human Rights and Legal Practice

“The worst thing about periods is when they creep up on you unexpectedly and you’re not prepared, therefore have to ask a stranger for a tampon. Imagine this when you’re about to compete or train – it’s the worst. Society has made periods a taboo subject, which only reinforces shame and embarrassment when you have to ask someone for help.

 I was at an away game and I suddenly came on. I had to ask all my teammates if anyone had anything I could use. I was embarrassed and felt as though I didn’t look like the strong leader I was supposed to be. It affected my mood and then my performance.

Following that, it was like a switch had flipped. I felt stronger, as if to say, “Even though I’m bleeding out, I’m going to smash this game!” My menstrual cycle had somehow made me mentally stronger, more passionate, and certainly more determined when it came to attaining my goals. A negative experience that I had with my period had then turned into an extremely positive one”

Emily – Criminology

I’m really lucky that I have a short and light period. But when I’m on I become so lazy and all I want to do is eat chocolate in bed. For me this becomes a time where exercise is essential to helping myself feel better and getting my mojo back. By playing a team sport I can use the energy the other girls give to help me perform at my best and give it my all. There’s nothing better than getting your frustration out at your period by tackling a member of the opposite team!

Jayme Garland – BA primary Ed

Have I leaked?

What if I start on the pitch?

Developing anxiety around performing in front of people in the premenstrual stage of my period, severely limited my enjoyment and passion for sport. I become so overwhelmed. This is something I have started to overcome since joining a team sport at university – hockey is my passion.

“It seems obvious that there is a correlation between mental and physical health, but even at an all-girls school, no one taught me that about periods”

We need to eradicate the stigma surrounding periods. Exercise can in fact it help you to feel a lot better. It just requires the right education, encouragement and coping strategies to do so.

My advice to anyone passionate about physical activity who has to deal with a period is be prepared!

 I use the Clue app to help track my cycle and stay in control.

Listen to your body and never let it stop you from achieving your goals and trying your best! 

Aimée Colohan, Dance

Periods for dancers can be uncomfortable, but they can also be empowering to own your body. With the dance world having such a focus on the body, it can create an environment where dancers feel exposed whilst on their period. Body insecurities caused by bloating aren’t comforted by a leotard and tights, additionally dancers who use pads find that movement demands of a class don’t cooperate well with them. Other period symptoms such as nausea, lightheadedness and acne can affect performance and confidence.

It is important to recognise that all bodies in a space are experiencing different things, and there should be an open, non-judgemental dialogue between dancers. It isn’t about a dancer failing to “push through the pain”, it’s about a dancer having the tools to listen to their body. People talk about their injuries hindering their performance, why not periods too?

Lauren –  Sport and Active Communities office

Periods are strange things. One minute you’re feeling strong and unbreakable. And the next you want chocolate and a sad film. Exercise becomes such a chore for that one week a month. Although we similarly experience general symptoms, periods affect every single person differently. The key is learning and listening to your body.

Personally, I know that the couple of days leading up to it, I’m feeling positive and strong, therefore I try to do a HIIT workout or something strenuous those days. The first two days in full swing  however, I’m in pain and I’m emotional. I aim to do a stretch class, or some relaxing evening yoga on those days – something to keep my body moving but also help relieve tension. (You’ll find anything you fancy on YouTube!)

The few days after that, I do whatever my body feels like – fancy a run? Do it. Can only manage a walk around the block? Also fine.

Exercising on your period becomes less of a task when you make it a part of your cycle. Next month, take note of how you’re feeling on each day. Write it down.

No matter the time of the month, or how you’re feeling – exercise works. Just make it work for YOU.

Sana  –  Biological Sciences

Periods and I, when doing sports/exercise, have never got on.  You know that feeling of getting really hot and uncomfortable especially in the summer… that was a real problem for me and really affected my performance. I also had really bad cramps. I dug down deep into my heart but couldn’t find a way to connect with sports and exercise.

 I really didn’t like doing sports or dance on my periods to the extent that I used to bring in a note from my parents to excuse me from PE but my teacher always used to say “people on their periods do sports all the time, it’s good for you” So I got changed for the lesson – inside I was dreading it but on the outside I was making it look like I was enjoying it.

This really affected my progress overall as I wasn’t able to join in. When I wasn’t on my periods and doing dance, I felt free, like I was able to do anything. But again when it was that time of the month, periods disconnected and affected the relationship between me and dance.

My connection with sports is mixed – sometimes periods affect my performance and other times it empowers me when seeing it in another light.

The University of Roehampton changes lives by helping our students to develop the confidence, knowledge and values they need for a successful and fulfilling life. We produce world-class research that helps us understand the world and change it for the better.

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