Weight loss occurs when you use up more energy through physical activity than you take in through food intake. It is much easier to lose weight by both reducing the energy that you take in and increasing the energy you expend, i.e. combining diet with physical activity. This is supported by a number of research trials in the general population, which have shown that combining exercise with diet leads to more weight loss than dieting alone.
There is also now evidence that moderate physical activity improves polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms and fertility as well as reducing risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes (e.g. high blood pressure, high glucose levels, insulin resistance). Importantly, these improvements are achieved even when weight loss doesn’t occur. Exercise (three times per week for 40-60 min. at moderate to high intensity) reduces androgens, improves insulin resistance, regulates cycles, induces ovulation and improves fertility in women with PCOS. Physical activity also increases energy levels, improves self esteem and reduces anxiety and depression. For this reason, physical activity should be a part of your lifestyle even if you are not actively trying to lose weight.
While the term “PolyCystic Ovary” refers to multiple ‘cysts’ in the ovaries, which is one of many symptoms associated with this disorder, Mensural Dysfunction and Hyperandrogenism are also considered as the significant conditions indicating PCOS during the diagnosis.
How much physical activity should I do?
Current guidelines recommend engaging in moderate intensity physical activity for a minimum of 150 min. per week. If you are trying to lose weight, this may need to be increased to 225-300 min. per week. There is evidence in women with PCOS that 90 min. per week of moderate to high intensity aerobic exercise (60-90 per cent of your maximum heart rate) improves the symptoms of PCOS.
Aim to include some type of physical activity every day for at least 30 min. and build this up over time. This can also be broken up into smaller sessions (10-15 min. sessions) spread out over the day, and can include both structured exercise and incidental exercise (daily lifestyle activities such as climbing stairs whenever possible, walking greater distances (i.e. parking further away or getting off the bus a stop or two earlier), walking during lunchtime, walking down the hall instead of emailing, gardening and house cleaning).
If you have any concerns about your ability to participate in exercise due to injuries or other barriers, you could consider seeing an exercise physiologist for advice on suitable exercise training. Using a simple, cheap tool such as a pedometer and aiming for 10,000 steps per day can help you to measure how much incidental exercise you do each day. Exercise with a family member or a friend. It is important that you try to make this a key priority in your life as it will affect your long-term health.
Types of physical activity
Different types of physical activity give you different benefits. Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise which increases your heart rate helps to build up fitness and expend (use up) energy. Start at a low to moderate intensity and gradually increase this over the course of several weeks or months as your fitness improves.
Resistance or strength exercise such as weight training helps to build up muscle mass. This is important as muscle is the part of the body responsible for burning the greatest amount of energy. Increasing your muscle mass can therefore help increase the amount of energy you use up every day both while exercising and while resting. Ideally resistance training should be performed three times per week using a variety of different exercises that work each of the major muscle groups.
Check with your local community health service to see if there are any PCOS training or community groups in your local area.