The effect of high intensity exercise on polycystic ovarian syndrome

In a nutshell

This study examined whether high intensity exercise could improve the cardiometabolic profile in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Some background

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is associated with many hormonal and metabolic (how the body breaks down and uses energy from food) factors. In addition to having fertility problems and high levels of the hormone testosterone, women with PCOS often have insulin resistance, a reduction in the ability of the hormone insulin to break down sugar taken in from food. Women with PCOS may also have dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of fats in the blood) and consistent low levels of inflammation. These factors increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (narrowing or blockage of blood vessels which can lead to heart failure or stroke) in women with PCOS.

The first-line treatment for patients with PCOS is lifestyle intervention. Exercise is recommended for all patients in order to improve outcomes. It is not known how much exercise patients should undertake.

Methods & findings

This study aimed to determine the effect of high intensity exercise on metabolic, cardiovascular, and hormonal outcomes in women with PCOS.

This study involved 31 women with PCOS. Participants were divided into 3 groups. One group carried out high intensity interval training (biking, walking or running at varying levels of intensity), while another group carried out strength training. The remaining group did not take part in an exercise program. All exercise programs were carried out for 10 weeks.

Insulin resistance decreased by 17% only in participants that performed high intensity interval training. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (commonly referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol) increased by 0.2 mmol/L only in patients who carried out high intensity interval training.

The fat percentage decreased by 0.9% in participants who performed high intensity interval training and by 1.6% in participants who performed strength training. Neither exercise programs resulted in a decrease in body weight.

Anti-Müllarian hormone (AMH, a hormone which predicts ovarian function and is often very high in women with PCOS) blood levels were significantly reduced in the strength training group only (decreased by 14.8 pmol/L).

Methods & findings
The bottom line

This study concluded that performing high intensity interval training for 10 weeks can improve the cardiovascular and metabolic profile in women with PCOS. Both high intensity interval training and strength training can improve body composition but do not increase weight loss.

The fine print

The sample size of 31 participants was small. Although participants were encouraged not to make changes to their diet, the authors cannot be certain that women did not alter their diet.

What’s next?

Consult with your physician regarding the most suitable exercise program for PCOS. 

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Published By: PLOS ONE
Date: Nov 11, 2020
Original Title: Effects of High Intensity Interval Training and Strength Training on Metabolic, Cardiovascular and Hormonal Outcomes in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Pilot Study.

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