The 5 Essential Components of a Healthy Lifestyle for PCOS

Diet and lifestyle are the primary treatment approaches for women with PCOS. Here are the 5 essential components of a healthy lifestyle for PCOS.

Women exercising on stationary bikes in fitness center
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Eat a Healthy Diet

Sure, you know that a healthy diet is important for PCOS but what exactly does this entail? Women with PCOS have higher levels of inflammation which may be the part driving the hormone imbalance (higher testosterone, luteinizing hormone and insulin levels) in the first place.

A diet that targets inflammation works well for women with PCOS. An anti-inflammatory diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, moderate amounts of high-fiber unprocessed low glycemic index grains (oats, quinoa), and foods rich in omega-3 fats such as fish (salmon, tuna, trout), nuts, seeds, and avocados.

A key part of a healthy diet for PCOS is to spread carbohydrate foods evenly throughout the day instead of many at once. This will help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce insulin surges. Eat moderate amounts of carbohydrates per meal and snack, about the quarter of your plate, for balance.

Exercise Regularly

Diet alone isn’t enough to properly manage PCOS. Because they have higher testosterone levels, women with PCOS tend to build muscle more easily than those without the condition. More muscle mass increases metabolic rate so you burn calories more effectively, and it helps you to use glucose better resulting in less insulin needing to be secreted.

Most healthy adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity, spread out over the course of a week. In addition, try to get at least two days of weight training each week to build and maintain muscle mass.

Adding more activity into your day by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking your car further from the door, or taking short walks at lunch or breaks can make a difference in your health and help you to produce less insulin. Some people find the use of fitness trackers helpful to increase their steps each day and even have competitions with co-workers or friends.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep, or lack of it, can significantly affect the health of women with PCOS. Lack of sleep is associated with greater insulin resistance and more difficulties losing weight. Insufficient sleep has also been linked to a greater intake of carbohydrate foods.

It has been shown that women with PCOS have higher rates of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that causes a cessation in breathing during sleep. While excess weight can be a factor of OSA, higher testosterone levels, which affect sleep receptors in the brain, are also a factor. If you’ve been told you snore, since you aren’t getting quality sleep, or feel constant fatigue during the day, consider getting a sleep study done to test for OSA. Treatment usually involves using a CPAP machine and can result in you having more energy and an easier time losing weight.

OSA is also closely linked with glucose intolerance in people with PCOS.Glucose intolerance is directly related to the severity of sleep disordered breathing. People with PCOS are more likely to have sleep apnea even when controlled for BMI, and the strongest predictors for sleep apnea was fasting insulin and glucose to insulin ratios.

Get a Hold on Stress

Stress is a part of everyone’s day. If not managed, constant prolonged stress can cause significant health issues such as high blood pressure and can cause an increase in cortisol and insulin levels contributing to weight gain.

If you feel you can’t get a hold on your stress, consider a mindfulness-based stress management course to help you deal with stress more effectively. Regular walking, meditation or yoga are activities that can reduce cortisol and insulin levels in women with PCOS.

Manage Your Weight

Women with PCOS do have more difficulties losing weight . Insulin is, after all, an appetite stimulant that promotes fat storage, which is why so many women with the condition experience rapid amounts of unexplained weight gain.

Following the essential components of a healthy PCOS lifestyle discussed here can assist with weight management. Fad diets that promote extreme weight loss only contribute to the yo-yo dieting cycle. If you are struggling to manage your weight, consider consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in PCOS to help you.

By Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN
 Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, is the founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center.