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7 Things Every Female Athlete Should Know

7 Things Every Female Athlete Should Know

‘Tis the season for Turkey Trots, marathons, and more! In fact, I’m proud to say that I became a first-time Ironman a few weeks ago! Leading up to my race I tackled common challenges that all athletes face—learning about race nutrition, figuring out how to juggle training with social and work commitments, and taking on the many other obstacles that come up when working towards a goal. My career as an OB/GYN, however, also kept women’s health and how it impacts our exercise routines at top of mind. So, what should women know about working out? Here are my top 7 tips!

1. Your athletic performance can be affected by your menstrual cycle, especially if your cycles are heavy.

This can affect wanting to work out at all during a heavy period. It can also contribute to iron-deficiency anemia, for which female athletes are at increased risk. There are safe medical options to either reduce blood flow, like an oral contraceptive pill, and treatment options that can safely stop the period altogether, like a progestin-only intrauterine device.

2. Exercise during pregnancy is encouraged!

The more healthy habits a patient has developed going in to the pregnancy will mean the more they can maintain throughout their pregnancy. Contact sports and high risk sports (i.e. horseback riding) are not advised, but continuing exercise regimens including running, yoga, Pilates, weight lifting, or spin are all great options! Need more tips on how to incorporate exercise into your pregnancy? Check out this article on Richmond Moms Blog written by my colleague Dr. Cara Hartle. 

3. If you are someone who has always had regular periods and then suddenly see the pattern become irregular or absent while increasing activity level, then it is time to visit your gynecologist.

A consequence of intense exercise and weight loss is something called the female athlete triad. This refers to being underweight, irregular or missed cycles, and low bone mass. Oftentimes this condition is worsened by a combination of increased activity and not eating regularly or enough.

4. Weight bearing and strength exercises are important for your bone health.

These types of exercises, which include dancing, aerobics, running, stair climbing, tennis, weight lifting, and use of resistance bands, all help build and maintain bone density. Osteoporosis prevention begins in our younger years and is even more important to focus on after menopause with the loss of estrogen.

5. Exercise can be associated with vaginal problems including recurrent yeast infections.

It is important to wear breathable underwear like cotton or specially-designed moisture wicking material. As soon as your exercise session ends, change out of athletic wear to help prevent infection.

6. Is your exercise routine being affected by urinary leakage? Women, especially after having children, commonly experience what is called urinary stress incontinence – this is the leakage of urine caused by activity, coughing, sneezing or laughing.

This is a very treatable condition that can ultimately make exercise much more enjoyable! Treatment includes both pelvic floor physical therapy as well as outpatient surgical treatment. One of our physicians, Dr. Aboujaoude, is a urogynecologist and specializes in these treatments.

7. Exercise has numerous benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, improving energy and sleep, preventing and treating depression, and it can even boost your sex drive!

For those of you already exercising – great job!  Grab a friend next time you head out for a hike or the gym and get others just as excited by one of the number of things you can do for your overall health and wellness.

Exercise is not always to fit in to a busy work and family schedule, but it is doable! What I learned in the past year training for an Ironman Triathlon was the importance of beginning with smaller goals and focusing on making them into bigger dreams. Finding a team and coach for accountability and then scheduling workouts into my calendar led to me successfully following through on my training routine.  Reminding yourself the benefits exercise has and finding an activity that you enjoy makes working out easy to maintain!


Dr. Jennie Draper sees patients in our offices at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical Building-South, West Creek Medical Park in Short Pump, and the Henrico Doctors Hospital Professional Building. Her special career interests include international medical missions, adolescent medicine, and minimally invasive surgery including the da Vinci Robot. Outside of work Jennie’s hobbies include triathlon training, cooking and photography. She also loves travelling and spending time with friends. Request an appointment with Dr. Draper today.