Women better at sport during period, study suggests

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Comment on the photo, Researchers say sports injuries can be linked to hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle

  • author, Aurelia Foster
  • Role, Health correspondent, BBC News

A study suggests that women athletes make fewer mistakes and have faster reactions when they are on their menstrual cycle.

Tests designed to mimic the mental processes involved in team sports assessed reaction time, attention, accuracy and spatial awareness of 241 women – 14 days apart.

They felt worse when they had their period and thought their performance would suffer, but on average, they were 12% faster on the ball-moving tasks and 25% more likely to pass a test of their anticipatory skills.

It could explain why women play contact sports Appear vulnerable to injury Researchers from University College London say that the body is in its luteal phase, between ovulation and menstruation.

Dr Flamina Ronca, lead author of the study, which was conducted with the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health and published in the journal Neuropsychologia, said it was “proof of principle” that this was linked to hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle.

“What we’re seeing is that reaction times are a little bit slower in the luteal phase and that’s consistent with the fact that we’re seeing an increased incidence of infections,” she said.

During the luteal phase, women experience:

  • Low estrogen stimulates parts of the brain.
  • Increased levels of progesterone, which suppresses cognitive function and can slow reaction times

These changes begin to subside during menstruation.

Dr Ronca told the BBC: ‘We wondered whether the injuries might be a result of changing the timing of the athletes’ movements throughout the course.’

She expressed her hope that the study would mean that women who play contact sports could adapt their game plan to suit their menstrual cycle.

“If I knew I might be more likely to make a timing and movement error, I might not go for intervention that day,” Dr. Ronca said.

“I might adopt a different strategy in the game.

“It’s just changing the way we play and the awareness.”

“Having that awareness and knowing what’s happening to your body, it’s actually very comforting for athletes, because at least you have an explanation as to why you’re making more mistakes or something might not be quite right.

“And if you know what’s going on, you can be more aware of the decisions you make.”

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