10 Benefits of Yoga for PCOS
Nutrition and exercise are the first line treatments for PCOS. They have numerous benefits for PCOS, including decreasing insulin resistance, increasing metabolic rate, lowering blood glucose and improving heart health, body composition, sleep, mood and more. But one form of exercise that tends to get overlooked is yoga. After reading this article about the benefits of yoga for PCOS, I bet you’ll be ordering a yoga mat on amazon asap!
What is yoga?
Some forms of exercise come and go (remember step classes and high impact aerobics?) but yoga has been around for 5000 years. Yoga is a mind and body practice that combines stretching and strengthening exercises with deep breathing and meditation. With over 100 different types of yoga, some forms can be quite rigorous physically, while others are more restorative and relaxing. But they all have one thing in common … the breath, mindfulness and focusing on your inner self.
I’m a yoga convert
If you haven’t practiced yoga, you may associate it with people chanting on the floor or contorting your body into a pretzel. To be honest, years ago, I thought yoga was a waste of time. I tried it few times and it didn’t click. But I can now say, it may be my second favorite type of movement (after biking!). I can truly say it calms me, brings an inner sense of peace that carries over into everyday life. And the good news is that studies show it has numerous health benefits … including for women with PCOS!
Stress and PCOS
Before we jump into the benefits of yoga, let’s talk about stress. As we know, there is no one size fits all PCOS. Some women are more insulin resistance, others have more inflammation and others have stress as a driver of their PCOS. Most of us are in constant stress mode trying to navigate our hectic lives. Studies have shown that women with PCOS experience even more anxiety and stress. While some short stress has health benefits, chronic stress can wreak havoc mentally and physically, leading inflammation, worsened insulin resistance, high blood pressure, aches and pains, sleep problems and more. In addition, stress has a negative impact on reproductive hormones and fertility. This is called the HPA (hypothalamic pituitary axis)
Quick review of PCOS hormones
Excess androgens cause the symptoms of PCOS and are produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Insulin resistance increases production of ovarian androgens … but stress tends to increase adrenal gland androgen production. It’s believed that 30-40% of women with PCOS make adrenal androgens. (HINT: look at your bloodwork for high levels of DHEAS. These are produced only in the adrenal glands). So stress does 3 things:
– Increases cortisol production
– Increases adrenal androgen production
– Chronic stress alters the balance of hormones of LH and FSH, needed for ovulation and fertility (called the hypothalamic pituitary ovary axis)
Read more about excess adrenal androgens in PCOS here. The good news is that yoga can have many benefits for the HPO axis. So let’s get that stress under control! Say Ommmm ….
10 benefits of yoga for PCOS
I’d call yoga a stealth exercise – it may appear slow paced but packs in a ton of mental and physical health benefits. And studies have even been done in women with PCOS (I know – shocker -right??) Most of yoga’s health benefits have been attributed to its effect in the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis. In a nutshell, it helps decrease stress …which does a body good!
Some of the benefits include:⠀
- Decreases stress and anxiety
- Decreases cortisol
- Improves mood
- Decreases inflammation
- Decreased blood sugar & insulin (Int J Gyn Obstet 2012, Nidhi et al)
- Improves sleep
- More regular menstrual cycles (Fertil Ster. 2000, Domar et al)
- Improves strength & flexibility
- Could improve heart health
- May decrease androgens
More studies on yoga and PCOS
Study #1: This 12 week study included adolescent girls with PCOS.
1/2 had one hour yoga and 1/2 regular exercise
At the end of 12 wks, yoga was more effective at improving many of the symptoms:
- Decreased anti-mullerian hormone (AMH)
- More frequent menstruation
- 12 point reduction in anxiety
- 14.9 -point decrease anxiety
- 14.9 % decrease in IR
- 5.5% decrease in fasting blood sugar
- 22.49 % decrease in HOMA-IR
Reference: Kendra Tolbert RD Yoga for Fertility and Women’s Health DIFM newsletter 2019
Study #2: 3 month randomized, controlled trial on 22 women with PCOS: 13 in the mindful yoga group (1 hour 3x/wk) and 9 in the control group.Participants were between the ages of 22 and 43 years, with a BMI of 20 to 48.
At the end of the 3 months, the yoga group had:⠀
- 29% reduction in testosterone levels⠀
- Decreasing trend of DHEA ⠀
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Decrease in free testosterone continued for 3 months after the study, despite stopping yoga classes⠀
Tips to get started with yoga
- Check with your doctor first if you have any health issue
- Find a local yoga studio or gym and see if they have beginner classes. It’s important to tell the instructor you are a beginner so they can check your form
- Pay attention to any injuries you have a modify the class. For example, I have some neck and knee issues so need to avoid some poses (like pigeon pose!)
- No yoga studio? No worries! There are tons of free classes online ranging from beginner to advanced arm balanced classes!
- Invest in a good yoga mat. You may find yourself sliding around on some of the cheaper ones
- Remind yourself that this is YOUR practice. Don’t judge yourself for not being able to hold a pose. Try not to look around the yoga studio and compare yourself to others.
- Don’t stress if you have a hard time clearing your mind with some of the breathing exercises. It will come with practice
- Suggestions for free online yoga classes (some have free 14 or 30 day trials)
Yoga with Adriene!
Core Power Yoga
- Check out PCOS yoga expert Kendra Tolbert MS, RDN, RYT yoga classes:
The health benefits of yoga for PCOS are endless. It can get to the root of one of the drivers of PCOS – stress. Whether you are already a hard-core exerciser or more of the couch potato type, it’s worth incorporating yoga into your life. Don’t feel that you have be a pretzel to take yoga. Yoga is not a competition; it’s about breathing and mindfulness. I have yet to find a person who hasn’t felt benefits from yoga.
I’d love to know if you’ve tried yoga and what you think about it!
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.