Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects women of reproductive age. It is characterized by the presence of multiple cysts on the ovaries, as well as a range of other symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, excess hair growth, and weight gain.
One of the most significant and common symptoms of PCOS is insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia [1-3]. Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body’s cells are less sensitive to the effects of insulin, which results in excess insulin production. Insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia are present in 65–95% of women with PCOS, including most overweight and obese women and more than half of women of normal weight .
Insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia are considered major drivers of PCOS and are involved in the development of hyperandrogenaemia and reproductive dysfunction by various mechanisms [1, 4]. It is often that women with PCOS will be prescribed with an insulin sensitizing medication like metformin. It is important to know that exercise is also a potent insulin sensitizing tool. Different types of exercise are more potent others when targeting insulin sensitivity.
High intensity exercise also stimulates certain hormones (myokines) which result in fat loss or fat redistribution from the abdominal and visceral area [9-11]. This helps clear our “toxic” abdominal fat which can alleviate inflammation, insulin resistance and PCOS. Although HIIT and high intensity-resistance training offer similar benefits explained above, they also offer unique advantageous (but this is for a different blog).
In addition to these benefits, resistance training and HIIT have been shown to improve body composition, cardiovascular fitness, and overall health in women with PCOS. These exercises can also help to reduce stress and improve mood, which can be particularly beneficial for women with PCOS who may be experiencing a range of emotional and psychological symptoms.
Other types of exercise like walking or running are also effective methods which will also benefit PCOS, although the most insulin sensitizing types of exercise are HIIT and resistance training. HIIT and resistance training are also time-efficient, and the methods used at Sydney Exercise Medicine are the safest and most effective methods.
In addition, low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets have been shown to reverse type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and PCOS [12, 13].
In conclusion, resistance training and HIIT can be beneficial for women with PCOS and insulin resistance. These types of exercises can improve insulin sensitivity, glucose metabolism, body composition, cardiovascular fitness, and overall health. It is important to note that before starting any exercise program, it is always best to consult with a healthcare provider or an exercise physiologist to ensure that the program is safe and appropriate for the individual needs. Also, it is important to keep in mind that, although exercise can be beneficial for managing PCOS and insulin resistance, it is only one part of a comprehensive treatment plan. A healthy diet, weight management, and medication, if needed, should also be part of the treatment plan.
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11. Kolnes, K.J., et al., Effect of Exercise Training on Fat Loss—Energetic Perspectives and the Role of Improved Adipose Tissue Function and Body Fat Distribution. Frontiers in Physiology, 2021. 12.
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13. Zhang, X., et al., The Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diet on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Endocrinol, 2019. 2019: p. 4386401.