Is it okay to walk during recovery? How much? Should I track my steps? Is running bad?
I've been getting all these questions.
Based on my experience: Yes, it is okay to walk during recovery. I don't agree with the statement that we should only be sitting on the couch, eat cookies and wait for the period to return. I don't like black and white solutions because the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
But here are my thoughts on the topic of walking and hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery:
It's Not Okay to Sit All Day Long and Wait for Your Period. Period.
Your period will probably return faster the less you move. That's right. But we also have to look at the other side of the story: Being too sedentary is also harmful for the body. And as we stop moving much, it naturally happens that we end up sitting more.
As a personal trainer, I just can't agree with the advice of not moving at all, and even worse, sit all day long, even during your recovery from hypothalamic amenorrhea.
When we sit long periods of time, we likely end up with tight and weakened hips, back and shoulders that eventually start to hurt. When we're sitting, our glutes stop being engaged, putting additional stress on the spine. And recovery from hypothalamic amenorrhea may take several months!
All that is especially true if our sitting posture is not on point. How many of us sit with our abs braced at least 20% of our maximum engagement, and get up every 10-15 minutes to reorganize our sitting position, like Kelly Starrett recommends? (If you don't know who Kelly Starrett is, he's a physical therapist, a coach, speaker and author of one of the best books on training, movement and mobility, Becoming a Supple Leopard. Check it out, it's a great book.)
The key is, as always, balance. I don't encourage you to walk miles and miles every day. But I also don't encourage you to sit and do nothing the entire duration of your recovery. I've seen people, myself included, ending up with shoulder, hip and back pain that take months and months to heal. I wish I had done some mobility work while I was recovering, in addition to walking.
How Many Steps Should I Walk During My Recovery?
So, how do you know that you're moving enough to keep your muscles and spine healthy but not too much to slow down your recovery? Is there a certain number of steps that you should be taking every day, and should you track it?
There's no one “safe” number of steps that you should take every day. There's no one answer.
I tell my personal training clients who don't have hypothalamic amenorrhea, to make an effort to walk 8 000-10 000 steps a day or alternatively walk 60+ minutes a day. It doesn't have to be one long walk, it can be done accumulatively. But women with hypothalamic amenorrhea or other overtraining symptoms are different. They're often way too obsessed with counting and tracking way too many things already, and I really don't want to encourage them to add another stressor to their lives. Because I know many of them are perfectionists who always do their maximum.
For example, 6 000-7 000 steps of leisurely walking is probably fine for most women recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea. But what a typical woman who has hypothalamic amenorrhea does when I tell her that, is that she won't go to bed until she has hit that 7 000 no matter how tired she is. But if you're tired, it means that your body needs rest and it's a better idea to go to bed and not worry about these steps.
One major goal of hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery is to get to know your body and learn to understand what it's telling you. If we're always relying on numbers, we never give ourselves the chance to feel what our bodies need. We never learn to trust them!
So, I don't think you should aim for a certain number of steps as you're recovering. Walk as much as you really feel your body needs, to feel good. Don't do many uphills, don't sprint or even jog. Just walk, take in the nature and move yourself because it feels good, not because you need to burn calories or hit a certain number of steps.
Does It Matter How You Get Your Steps In?
It does matter how you take your steps. I don't recommend running at all during recovery. Just leisurely walking.
Someone just reached out to me and said that she had been trying to recover for 5 months. Nothing happened until 4 weeks ago when she injured her ankle and literally couldn't move anymore at all. Her daily movement consisted of getting up from her couch to go to the bathroom and kitchen.
Guess what, after 4 weeks, her period returned.
She was confused as to why her period hadn't returned earlier because she had kept her steps to only around 6 000 per day. I was quite surprised too because 6 000 really didn't seem that much. However, it came out that some days she had been running those 6 000 steps.
There's a huge difference in how you move during recovery. I would say, for most people, 6 000 steps a day is not going to hold them back from recovering given that these steps are taken walking leisurely, not doing intense uphill power walks, hikes or running. Running 6 000 steps a day can absolutely slow your recovery down.
Don't Overthink It
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of women who have hypothalamic amenorrhea, are perfectionists. Some of them go too far with worrying about literally every single step they take during their recovery too.
But remember that while it's incredibly important to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, there's no need to overthink every single detail.
If you need to run to catch a bus or otherwise you'd miss work, go ahead and run. It's real life, it happens!
If you went on a nice 15-minute easy bike ride with your nephew on a Sunday morning, that's absolutely cool.
If you did a hike that had a little bit elevation gain, one time is not going to ruin your progress. Stop worrying, enjoy the views and make sure to eat a lot after your hike!
It is okay to move while you're still recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea. In moderation, everything is fine.
Sure, there are more severe degrees of hypothalamic amenorrhea, and some people really are so burnt out that they're better off keeping their physical stress to a very minimum. But it is okay to go and walk around the block and do your mobility exercises to keep your muscles, joints and spine healthy.
What you do need to avoid most of the time is running — both jogging and sprinting, uphill walking, intense bike rides, and of course, any intense training like weight lifting, HIIT or anything else that makes you break sweat.
You don't need to track your walking steps, especially if you know that you're a perfectionist and may go too far with it. Instead, get really intuitive and walk the way that makes you feel great.
Are you recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea and want to start training again, without losing your period? My Simple Strength for Women Program is designed for you!