Can Diet Changes and Exercise Help With PMS?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on September 13, 2023
4 min read

If you have premenstrual syndrome (PMS), you have symptoms each month during the days before your period -- and they’re bad enough that they affect your regular life. You might feel emotional changes, like trouble with your mood, sleep, or concentration. And you could have physical changes: fatigue, bloating, or food cravings.

You can manage these symptoms, though. Different techniques work for different people. Small changes to your diet, for example, may help reduce or control your PMS symptoms.. And many women find that exercise can help a lot.

Here are some ways to change your food choices and eating habits to improve the way you feel every month.

Eat more complex carbs. Big swings in your insulin level are a common cause of intense cravings and bad moods. Complex carbohydrates are important nutrients that enter your bloodstream slowly over time, helping to curb those cravings and level off your mood.

Whole grains, beans, and barley are all examples of foods rich in complex carbs. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources.

Load up on calcium and vitamin D. Some research suggests that a high intake of calcium and vitamin D may help reduce PMS. Try adding foods like reduced-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese to your diet. If you can’t eat dairy, consider taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement. Bonus: Calcium and vitamin D may also lower your chances of getting osteoporosis and some cancers.

Cut back on salt. Sodium can cause your body to retain fluid. If bloating, swollen hands and feet, or tender breasts are part of your monthly period problems, reduce the amount of salt in your diet.

Salt is hidden in a lot of unexpected places, so try to cook your own meals as often as you can and avoid processed, packaged foods.

Limit alcohol and caffeine. Relying on coffee to help you wake up and a glass of wine to help you wind down can make your PMS worse. Both caffeine and alcohol can disrupt your sleep. Caffeine can aggravate PMS symptoms.

Get a healthy dose of iron. You lose a fair amount of iron when you’re menstruating, so getting enough of the nutrient from food is important before and during your period. Eating enough iron-rich foods can help lower your risk of getting anemia.

Lean meats like beef filets and lamb steaks are good sources, as are seafoods like greenshell mussels. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, your doctor might suggest alternatives, including iron supplements you can take.

Eat less, but more often. In addition to these changes to your diet, you might want to consider when and how you eat. Instead of three big meals a day, try six small meals instead. This will keep your blood sugar stable through the course of the day, which can help improve your symptoms.

Research suggests that aerobic exercise can help improve PMS symptoms such as depression and fatigue. One study found that women who did 60-minute aerobic sessions three times a week for 8 weeks felt much improved physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Anything that boosts your heart rate is considered aerobic exercise. It helps improve your mood by boosting important brain chemicals called endorphins. Increased endorphins may also help reduce the amount of pain you feel from PMS.

Good choices for aerobic exercise include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Running
  • Biking
  • Swimming

Yoga is another activity that might help you. It can help reduce stress, and that’s a big part of managing your symptoms.

One study found that many women who participated in a 12-week yoga program had less menstrual pain, cramps, and bloating. They also had more energy and a better mood. Another study showed that certain yoga poses -- “cobra,” “cat,” and “fish” -- helped ease painful cramping (dysmenorrhea).

Exercise can not only ease your PMS symptoms, it’s an important way to stay strong, keep your weight in check, and reduce your chances of getting serious diseases like diabetes.

Exercise tips

Don’t overdo it. Research suggests that your muscles may move differently during your period, making injuries more likely. Adding certain strengthening and balancing exercises to your fitness routine might lower your chances of getting hurt. Talk to your doctor before you start any new exercise routine.

Make exercise a regular part of your life. Don’t just save your workouts for the days you have the worst PMS symptoms. All it takes is about 30 minutes a day, most days of the week, to see results. Don't forget to drink plenty of water!