Is HIIT Really the Worst Exercise for PCOS? Here’s What Science Has to Say!

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

Worst Exercise for PCOS
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Is exercise good for PCOS? Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Exercise is great for everyone! However, PCOS research is ever-evolving, and there is always new and conflicting information. In this article, we discuss the evidence available and try to debunk the myth about “the worst exercise for PCOS”.

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    What is the Importance of Exercise in PCOS?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    Are There Any Exercises to Avoid in PCOS?
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    What Should an Ideal Workout for PCOS Look Like?
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    Don’t Have Time To Read?
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What is the Importance of Exercise in PCOS?

Exercise is a key component of maintaining overall good health. It can help you manage your weight, lower your blood sugar levels, assist your cells in processing insulin better (improve insulin sensitivity), lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce stress levels, improve your mood, and much more.

When you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS, you are more likely to be overweight or obese, have excess weight around your abdomen (visceral fat) and have a higher chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes, all of which are caused by increased insulin resistance in your cells.

Insulin resistance is a condition where your cells are unable to utilise the insulin produced in your body effectively, resulting in high blood glucose levels. This causes your body to produce more insulin, which in turn results in the increased production of androgen hormones and exacerbates the symptoms of PCOS.

Increased insulin levels can also make it harder for you to lose weight, as insulin promotes the storage of fat in the body and can interfere with fat burning and loss. 

Exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity, reduce cholesterol levels, and promote weight loss, thus leading to better management of PCOS. 

Exercise can also help lower your stress and anxiety levels, which can be helpful in achieving hormonal balance in women with PCOS.

Click here to learn more about the importance of exercise and the best exercises for PCOS.


Are There Any Exercises to Avoid in PCOS?

We’ve seen how exercise can positively affect PCOS symptoms, but is there such a thing as the worst exercises for PCOS? Can exercise and physical activity in general be bad for PCOS management? No, not in particular. 

No one form of exercise is bad for PCOS. However, overdoing any exercise can make matters worse. Too much exercise, especially when you are not used to working out regularly, can throw off your hormonal balance, especially the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which could worsen your condition.

Are HIIT Workouts the Thing to Avoid in PCOS?

HIIT or high intensity interval training consists of exercises involving short and repeated bouts of intense activity followed by periods of rest. It is thought to be extremely effective when it comes to weight loss, and has gained popularity in recent times for its numerous health benefits.

With HIIT, you exercise with maximum effort for a relatively short period of time. However, this short burst of intense activity can increase the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, along with testosterone. This is thought to be detrimental for women with PCOS, as high levels of testosterone (male hormone or androgen) and stress hormones can make PCOS symptoms worse. Thus, several experts ask women with PCOS to restrain from rigorous HIIT training.

However, it is also important to note that several studies have found HIIT training to be a particularly effective tool for lowering insulin resistance and promoting weight loss in women with PCOS. Studies have observed that women who include HIIT exercises at least thrice in their weekly fitness regime experienced improved PCOS symptoms.

Another study has found that post-HIIT workouts, cortisol and testosterone levels return to normal within 2 to 3 hours of exercise. This study also found that despite the initial increase, HIIT workouts can actually help lower your cortisol and stress levels over a period of 24 hours. 

More research needs to be done in this area, but a moderate amount of HIIT exercise does not appear to make symptoms of PCOS worse.

What Should an Ideal Workout for PCOS Look Like?

So, is there a balanced way to exercise in PCOS? Yes. Most experts recommend exercising for at least 150 min a week if you have PCOS. This can be split into 30 min of exercise everyday, for 5 days a week, with 2 days of rest included. Striking a balance between cardio or aerobic exercise, HIIT workout, strength or resistance training and mind-body exercises like yoga or tai chi can help you achieve the best possible results for managing PCOS. Trying to make a balanced workout plan for PCOS? Check out the plan below and use it as a base for forming your own PCOS fitness routine.
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
30 min of cardio AND 15 to 30 min of yoga/ pilates/ tai chi 15 min of HIIT workout AND 30 mins of strength or resistance training Rest OR  Active rest with foam rolling or stretching 15 min of HIIT workout AND 30 min of cardio 30 to 45 min of cardio 15 min of HIIT workout AND 30 min of strength or resistance training Rest OR  Active rest with yoga or stretching

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • Exercise is crucial for maintaining overall good health.
  • Exercise can help improve PCOS symptoms by improving insulin resistance, reducing cholesterol levels, and contributing to weight loss. It is a key component of lifestyle interventions for treating PCOS.
  • Recently, there has been some worrying research that implies that HIIT workout or other similar high-intensity exercises can increase your cortisol and testosterone levels and thus be bad for women with PCOS.
  • There have been no significant studies that suggest that any type of exercise can worsen PCOS. However, it is important to note that excessive exercise can worsen your condition.
  • A balanced exercise routine that includes cardio, HIIT workouts, strength training, and relaxation practices can help you manage your PCOS effectively.
  • Experts recommend exercising for at least 30 min daily, 5 days a week.
  • Start your PCOS management journey with Phable. Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading gynaecologists, endocrinologists, nutritionists, and dieticians; order medicines; book lab tests; and get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Check out our store to order healthy treats, weighing scales, fitness bands, and more! We also have a PCOS Management program that provides ‎360º care.

Frequently Asked Questions

No, exercise in general does not make PCOS worse. However, too much exercise can lead to injuries and overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, which can worsen your condition.

Yes, exercises like squats can help build lean muscle mass and improve insulin sensitivity in your cells. This can help alleviate PCOS symptoms as insulin resistance is a major contributor to the characteristic hormonal imbalance that is observed in PCOS.

Yes, lifting weights, strength training or resistance training can help you build lean muscle and lower insulin resistance in your muscle cells. This can help improve PCOS symptoms as insulin resistance in your body can lead to hormonal imbalances.

Yes, moderate-intensity cardio exercises like running can help improve insulin sensitivity and lower your chances of chronic conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Thus, including them in your exercise routine can help alleviate PCOS symptoms and improve your overall health.

Most doctors and experts recommend at least 150 min of moderate-intensity exercise per week for PCOS management. This can be split into 30 min of moderate-intensity exercise five times a week along with two days of rest, possibly including yoga or other relaxation practices.

A recent study suggested that practising yoga on a regular basis may help lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS, along with helping them manage stress and anxiety. Despite being considered beneficial and effective for alleviating PCOS symptoms, yoga should not replace regular exercise or physical activity in your workout routine. Exercise can help improve insulin resistance in your body, which can balance your hormone levels. Exercise is also crucial for managing your weight and preventing chronic diseases like Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. If you do not like going to the gym, you can exercise at home, while also including yoga into your fitness routine.

There is no such exercise for PCOS that can be considered “the worst”. Recently, there has been some discussion regarding HIIT exercise and its effects on stress levels, which could negatively impact PCOS. However, the results are inconclusive as there have been several studies which found little to no impact of HIIT exercise on PCOS symptoms.

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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