Does exercise help PCOS?

7 min
Updated Oct 31st, 2023

Table of contents

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is identified by a list of physically and emotionally challenging symptoms. These can include: irregular periods, excessive hair on your face, hair loss on your head, acne, weight gain and difficulty getting pregnant. Understandably, if you’re experiencing some of these PCOS symptoms you might feel overwhelmed and this can negatively affect your mental health.

Fortunately, there are changes you can make to your lifestyle that can help. One of the things you can do is to exercise regularly. But exercise often needs specific motivation. It can be hard to be motivated to take the time to exercise without knowing exactly why it’ll help you. We explain how exercise helps PCOS with the aim to inspire you to keep moving.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is thought to be very common, affecting around 1 in every 10 women in the UK. PCOS is a syndrome, so it displays a group of symptoms. There are three main criteria and if you’re diagnosed with PCOS you’ll have at least two of them: 

  1. Polycystic ovaries — you do not actually have cysts if you have PCOS, rather your ovaries grow larger and contain many follicles (partly developed eggs)
  2. Irregular periods — this suggests that your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulate)
  3. High levels of androgen in your body; acne and unwanted hair growth are consequences of this

The cause of PCOS has not been discovered, but it’s linked to abnormal hormone levels — often including high levels of insulin, which controls the sugar levels in your body.

How does exercise help PCOS?

Reduces insulin resistance

PCOS can make your body resistant to the action of insulin and as a result, your pancreas pumps out even higher levels of insulin to counteract it. This leads to increased production of hormones like testosterone. If the insulin being produced is still not enough for you to effectively absorb glucose, the high blood sugar levels can cause prediabetes (raising your risk of type 2 diabetes). 

High levels of insulin and testosterone may also prevent the normal development of follicles in the ovaries, with many not developing fully. This causes problems with ovulation, so many women have period problems and reduced fertility.

As well as PCOS, being overweight can increase insulin production as excess body fat triggers the body to produce more insulin. PCOS can contribute to making it difficult to lose weight… It’s a vicious circle. 

So how can exercise help PCOS and insulin resistance? Research published in the journal Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology found that exercise reduced weight and fasting insulin levels.

Exercise can increase your cells’ sensitivity to insulin so that they’ll be able to use glucose for energy more easily. Around 30 minutes a day of moderate cardio exercise or strength training, five days a week, should be sufficient. Consider things like swimming, tennis or brisk walking to get your heart rate up, as well as strength training (because building muscle can help reduce insulin resistance as well as cardio).

Alternatively, you could choose a more intense cardio exercise for a shorter period of time per week, for example, high-intensity interval training, running, climbing or aerobics.

Controls and balances your hormones

Frustratingly, when you have PCOS you can gain weight more easily and find it harder to lose. This is because as well as increasing insulin production, being overweight can negatively affect your hormones, especially oestrogen. Oestrogen helps you to gain weight in all the places you don’t want to. But by successfully losing weight, you can help to balance your hormones and get your PCOS under control. Ultimately, you want to burn more calories than you eat to lose weight. However, endless restrictive eating and exercise can be detrimental to your well-being. So, it’s important to ensure that the exercise is enjoyable and you vary it as much as you can. Try and find what you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like such a chore and you are more likely to stick with it. And don’t be discouraged if the weight doesn’t come off as fast as you’d like — even a small amount of weight loss can result in an improvement of PCOS symptoms

Increases endorphins

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, a hormone which helps to relieve pain, reduce stress and trigger a positive feeling. After exercising it is common to feel a ‘high’ — a spring in your step and a more positive outlook on life. 

Research has shown that women with PCOS can be at increased risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression. And if you’re feeling sad, it can be even harder to motivate yourself to exercise. But regular exercise has been shown to improve mood for those with mild depression or those who just feel low. Not only does exercise release endorphins, but there are also other mood-boosting benefits such as providing distraction and focus. You might also make a new network of friends by joining a class. And learning a new skill can improve your self-esteem.

Lowers cholesterol and reduces risk of heart disease

PCOS is said to increase some women’s risk of high cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease and developing atherosclerosis (fat build-up in the arteries) and high blood pressure. Although it is worth noting that women with PCOS each have different contributing factors and therefore different levels of risk,   exercising regularly can help to lower cardiovascular disease. Research in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that a 3-month structured exercise training program improved cardiopulmonary functional capacity in young PCOS women. So to strengthen your heart and lower your risk of heart disease you should try to make cardio exercise a regular part of your week. 

Aerobic exercise specifically lowers your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) the ‘bad’ cholesterol and boosts your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) the ‘good’ cholesterol. You need to combine exercise with eating a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, with less simple carbohydrates and sugars, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. As a result, there should be less buildup of fatty substances in your arteries.

Improves sleep

Women with PCOS are more likely to have sleep problems. It’s more common for those with PCOS to have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), possibly due to it being easier to put on weight with PCOS and harder to lose it. PCOS-related sleep problems also might be due to raised nighttime urinary melatonin levels or a symptom of hyperandrogenemia and insulin resistance. 

Sleep provides an opportunity for total mind and body rejuvenation. Lack of sleep can result in a low mood, lack of motivation to exercise, increased weight gain (we eat more calories when tired), and increased insulin resistance (more sleep improves insulin sensitivity). Not getting enough sleep can also increase levels of inflammatory markers, blood pressure and carb cravings!

Regular exercise can help you fall asleep more quickly, improving your sleep quality and any PCOS-related sleep problems like OSA. 

In Summary

Exercise can be an important part of your PCOS management. Not only does it improve your PCOS symptoms, but it can also help you to de-stress. It can be hard to find the time to regularly exercise, but it’s important if you have PCOS and especially if you’re trying to conceive. Your mental health can suffer when trying for a baby and so regular exercise can give you the mental and physical boost you need. The key is finding the type of exercise you enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with it. It is also important to ensure moderation in terms of the intensity and regularity of exercise too. Ensure that you’re also taking Inofolic Alpha.


Giallauria, F et al. 2007. Beneficial Effects of a Three-Month Structured Exercise Training Program on Cardiopulmonary Functional Capacity in Young Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 92, Issue 4. 1 April 2007. Pages 1379–1384

Kumarendran, B. et al. 2019. Increased risk of obstructive sleep apnoea in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a population-based cohort study. European Journal of Endocrinology. Volume 180: Issue 4. April 2019. Pages 265–272

Sunita M.C. et al. 2016. Metabolic syndrome, diet and exercise. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology. Volume 37. November 2016. Pages 140-151

Get news, updates and offers

Join our newsletter to be the first to know of new offers, products and company updates.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.