7 exercise tips for PCOS that you can start today

7 Exercise Tips for PCOS

If you have PCOS, exercising is a must. Doctors agree that exercise and weight loss can help PCOS, especially in improving hormone levels and insulin resistance. But there has not been enough research done on what type of exercise or exercise routine is the best [1]. So if you’re new to exercise, where do you start?


Whether you’re starting out on your fitness journey or you’ve been working out for a while, these exercise tips for PCOS will give you some ideas to get started, or help keep things fresh in your routine.


Take a Walk

It may seem simple, but going for a 20 to 30 minute walk every day can benefit your health more than you think. Walking, especially if you’re out in nature, can relieve stress. Walking outside gives you valuable exposure to vitamin D. Scientists suggest that up to 85% of women with PCOS could be vitamin D deficient [2]. This means that if you have PCOS, odds are you’re missing out on boosts to immune system, brain development, and a healthier heart!


In fact, whether you’re walking outside or inside, walking can help extend your life! A 2015 study found that daily walking can add 3 to 7 years to your lifespan [3]. If that’s not a reason to add a walk to your schedule, I don’t know what is.


Walking is terrific if you have health considerations preventing more high impact exercise like jogging or plyometrics. If you’re starting an exercise regime and want to take it slow, try fitting a brisk 20 to 30 minute walk into your day. Once you gain confidence though, you’ll want to add other forms of exercise to keep the regime balanced and fresh. 


We find that a step tracker, such as a Fitbit, is a great way to keep yourself motivated for a 20 minute walk each day.


Find Your Balance

Working out can be fun and invigorating when you start, but unless you balance your routine, you’ll eventually lose steam.


Exercise isn’t about jumping on the Stairmaster for an hour and calling it a day. Cardio is good for your heart and helps burn fat, but it isn’t the only thing that can help PCOS. Even if you aren’t planning on becoming a bodybuilder, adding muscle mass burns more calories and makes you stronger, among other bonuses (see more about strength training in the section below).


Finally, stretching is important to do after every workout to prevent injury and reduce lactic acid build up (the stuff that makes you sore the next day). Push stretching further by trying yoga or Pilates to improve flexibility and give you a lean physique.


The workouts you choose is up to you, but you should have variety in your exercise schedule to keep motivation up and address all your body’s needs. 


Burn More Calories with Interval Training

When thinking about cardio, many people imagine going for a jog or riding a bike for hours. As mentioned before, exercise in any format is great for PCOS. But if you are short on time or want the most efficient cardio workout, try interval training.


Interval training, or more specifically high intensity interval training (HIIT) involves alternating periods of intense physical exertion, where you give it your all, with less intense exercise. Intervals are versatile: they can be as simple as alternating sprinting and jogging during a run. It can also involve exercise moves like burpees, jump squats, or star jumps in intervals of 20-30 seconds with 10 seconds of active rest (such as jogging in place).


So why bother with HIIT when you could get on an elliptical instead? Well for one, HIIT burns more calories than steady state cardio like jogging or cycling. These power packed intervals actually kick up your metabolism so you burn more calories after the workout too.


There have been a few studies showing positive effects of HIIT on regulating PCOS. A study with overweight and obese women [4] and a study with women at a healthy BMI [5] both found that HIIT improved insulin resistance in women with PCOS, meaning it’s easier to lose and keep off the weight when you do HIIT!


HIIT can also be more enjoyable. A 2014 study discovered that people who did HIIT found exercising more fun and were likelier to stick with exercising consistently [6]. When establishing an exercise routine, it’s important to choose activities you’ll like. Give HIIT a try, and you might find it fun too!


Incorporate Strength Training

The stereotype is disappearing, but there’s still an idea floating around that women shouldn’t do strength training, or if they do, they shouldn’t lift very heavy. Well, the fact is there’s no such thing as male and female workouts. If adding muscle mass and functional strength is good for a man, then it is certainly a good idea for you too, especially if you have PCOS.


From a strictly weight loss perspective know this: it takes more calories to maintain muscle than it does to maintain fat. This means that the more muscle you have, the more energy you’ll use, even while sitting. Besides the practical benefits of being physically stronger, who wouldn’t want to make losing weight a little easier?


Adding the weights to an exercise regime prevents you losing lean muscle while you’re dieting. That way you can reduce your dress size while toning and firming up your overall appearance.


On the subject of appearance, one of the biggest objections women have towards hitting the weights is they’re worried they’re going to bulk up like a scary bodybuilder for even attempting a bicep curl. If it was that easy to get big, bulky muscles, then you would end up getting ripped arms from hauling grocery bags around! Women’s bodies do not build muscle in that way. Female bodybuilders train for hours and hours a week and have very specific diets and supplements that help build that shredded bod.


If you’re only doing a few 30-60 minute strength sessions a week, your body will look more toned and defined, but not bulky. You may find your clothes fit better even if the number on the weigh scale hasn’t changed.  


Find a Workout Buddy

Everything’s more fun with a friend and exercise is no exception! Finding a buddy to exercise with has many benefits. One of the most obvious advantages behind finding a workout buddy is it can make the time pass by and make the whole process more enjoyable. Even if you’re doing a particularly brutal exercise class, you can both moan, groan, and laugh about how sweaty your t-shirt is or how sore you’re going to be the next day.


Friends can keep you accountable. Even if you don’t feel like going on that hike or lifting weights at the gym, it can make you feel guilty to cancel on your friend last minute. Once you start exercising and talking with your friend, you’ll probably wonder why you ever dragged your feet about meeting up in the first place! And if your guilt hasn’t moved you, your workout buddy may be able to bully you into getting your butt to the gym. You may grumble at the time, but you’ll thank them for it later.


Be Nice to Yourself

Exercise involves both your body and mind. If you’re new to exercise, it can be nerve wracking to get out of your comfort zone. Remember that exercise is a journey, and you won’t be an expert right away. And that’s okay. Relax and acknowledge that you might not be perfect right away.


You may need to pick the lightest setting on the weight machine, or you may look a bit silly while punching away in a kickboxing class. Who cares? If you give yourself permission to make mistakes, you’ll enjoy yourself more and you won’t develop unhealthy attitudes towards fitness. Positive outlook means you’re more likely to continue exercising long term.


What’s more, you need to be nice to yourself both while you’re exercising and when you’re taking a rest day. Yes, it’s okay to have rest days. In fact, you put yourself at risk if you never take any rest days or work out for hours a day. It’s awesome to have fitness goals and want to make changes in your body and regulate PCOS. However, if you work out too much to “fix” yourself, you are in danger of shin splints, fractures, depression, and more [7].


When you’re exercising, go in and give it your all. But put aside at least one day a week where you aren’t exercising as well. You’ll find you’ll have better performance after a bit of a break.


Be Mindful of What You Eat

This article is about exercise tips, but it’s still important to know how exercise can affect the way you eat.


Some people who are new to exercise unfortunately fall into a trap when it comes to food. They’re feeling hungry because they’ve had an amazing workout and then dash away the benefits of that exercise through eating too much or eating something that is not good for them. Don’t let that be you! You’re feeling good after that Pilates class, but it doesn’t mean you need to celebrate with a burger and fries.


Know that with exercise and a more active lifestyle, it’ll mean you’re burning more throughout the day. Remember though that women with PCOS are more insulin resistant than average. This means that it’s that much harder to shed the pounds.


Don’t take two steps forward and one step back by exercising and then overeating. Instead, allow opportunities for treats or “cheat days,” but for the most part continue your diet as usual, maybe allowing for a little bit extra protein if you’re doing some intense exercise.


Have Fun!

“Yeah right,” you say. “What’s fun about huffing and puffing and feeling sore all over?” Well, the thing is, there are as many different ways to have a healthy active lifestyle as there are people. If you love to pump iron at the gym to the point where your arms feel like jelly the next day, then go for it. As long as you’re taking rest days and maintaining proper form, then power to you! However, if you hate the gym or the idea of going for an early morning jog makes you want to hurl, then don’t do it! Find your fitness in a way that suits your interests and personality.


Love competition? Then getting involved in sports through intramurals or a rec centre might be right for you. Does music make you forget you’re even working hard? Then incorporate music into your home workouts, or sign up for a Zumba or dance class. Don’t be afraid to keep trying new things until you find something you like. You’re worth it!


Final Words

This article has mentioned many forms of exercise that would benefit women with PCOS, such as HIIT, or resistance training, but ultimately, the fact you’re moving your body and breaking a sweat is going to be the most important thing for your condition and well-being. Listen to yourself and be open to trying new things.


After all, you shouldn’t be going into an exercise regime thinking that this is only temporary. Exercise needs to be part of the rest of your life, so you better make sure you’re doing something you enjoy a little bit.


Even the most seasoned fitness enthusiasts have days where they don’t want to put on their sports bra and runners. By participating in activities they like for long enough, on their off-days their discipline carries them through. It’s important you do that for yourself. Start small, find the fun, and enjoy the ride.



  1. Thomson, R., Buckley, J., & Brinkworth (2010). Exercise for the treatment and management of overweight women with polycystic ovary syndrome. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-789X.2010.00758.x/full
  2. Thomson, R., Spedding, S., & Buckley, J. (2012). Vitamin D in the Aetiology and Management of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Clin Endocrinol. 2012;77(3):343-350. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/769614_1
  3. New Study: Daily Walk Can Add 7 Years to Your Life: Retrieved from http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2015/09/11/daily-walk-benefits.aspx
  4. Harrison, C., et al. (2012). The impact of intensified exercise training on insulin resistance and fitness in overweight and obese women with and without polycystic ovary syndrome. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2265.2011.04160.x/full
  5. Almenning, I., et al. (2015). Effects of High Intensity Interval Training and Strength Training on Metabolic, Cardiovascular and Hormonal Outcomes in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Pilot Study. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0138793
  6. Jung, M., Bourne, J., & Little, J. (2014). Where does HIT fit? An examination of the affective response to high-intensity intervals in comparison to continuous moderate- and continuous vigorous-intensity exercise in the exercise intensity-affect continuum. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25486273
  7. Negative Effects Of Over Exercising: Retrieved from http://www.eatingdisordersonline.com/explain/negative-effects-exercise.php


Have you tried any of these exercise tips for PCOS? What’s your go-to way to work up a sweat? Share your story in the comments below!


Fertility Chef

Fertility Chef provides online PCOS diet & nutrition resources for women. Learn what a PCOS diet is & how it works.

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