Lifestyle Modification in the Management of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

December 13, 2017 Jennifer

Written by Jennifer Ma, AEP, ESSAM

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder characterised by abnormal menstrual cycles, high levels of androgens (hormones) and evidence of polycystic ovaries3 as diagnosed by your GP or Specialist.

The cause of PCOS is complex. PCOS may be due to a genetic predisposition, environmental factors (lifestyle), or a combination of both10.

PCOS affects 12-21% of women at reproductive age with prevalence more common in women who are overweight. A striking 70% of women are unaware that they have PCOS7. 21% of Indigenous women experience PCOS and this has been shown to be significantly related to obesity prevalence2.


Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of PCOS are complex and varied. The symptoms you may experience may be different to another woman with PCOS so it is important to talk to your GP or specialist even if you are unsure. Many of the symptoms experienced by PCOS are due to an increased amount of androgens such as testosterone which can produce the following symptoms:

– Abnormal periods

– Reduced fertility

– Excess hair (Hirsutism)

– Hair loss of scalp (Alopecia)

– Acne6

Weight gain is common in women with PCOS, however, overweight and obesity can increase the severity of symptoms and exacerbate PCOS, therefore, weight management is crucial in managing PCOS11.


Future Complications

Anxiety and depression are common in women experiencing PCOS. It can be an incredibly trying time for women who are experiencing difficulty conceiving. Managing unwanted side effects such as excessive facial hair, acne and weight gain can have a negative effect on body image4. It is important to talk to your health professional if you are experiencing sadness and low self esteem. Remember it’s ok to not be ok and many women with PCOS seek professional help in order to cope with the impact of PCOS on wellbeing.

Women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing further complications such as:

– Hyperinsulinaemia & Insulin Resistance (this may already be present)

– Metabolic syndrome

– Type 2 Diabetes

– Cardiovascular Disease

– Gestational Diabetes Melitis in pregnancy11

– Cancer of the lining of the uterus9


It is important to note that the risk of further complications is just that. RISK. And you do have the ability to reduce your risk by implementing permanent lifestyle changes with regular exercise and a healthy diet.


Management of PCOS

Due to the significant influence of lifestyle factors on PCOS, many women experience positive outcomes due to the long term implementation of a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet and regular exercise has the ability to improve fertility8 in turn having a significant effect on the ability to conceive1.

Regular exercise along with a healthy diet can result in:

– lower insulin levels

– reduced body fat

– reduced androgen levels

– regular periods

– improved fertility

– reduced diabetes risk

– reduced Cardiovascular disease risk5


It is widely recognised that introduction of a long term regular exercise plan along with a healthy diet is first line treatment for management of PCOS.


Exercise for PCOS

So what should you do? If you are unsure about healthy food choices speak to your GP or an accredited practicing dietician. An Exercise Physiologist can help you to make long term lifestyle and behavioural changes by assisting you to implement an exercise program specific to your individual needs and goals. Exercise alone has been proven to significantly improve health outcomes, insulin sensitivity and reduce further risk of disease.


Do this

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week
  • At least 90 minutes of vigourous exercise per week
  • At least 2 sessions per week of resistance/strengthening exercises
  • Book an appointment with an Exercise Physiologist to ensure you are getting the right advice & exercise intervention for your condition

Remember it is important to speak to your GP or specialist regarding your health, metabolic and cardiovascular disease risk prior to commencing an exercise program.

Email to find out more information or call (03) 9999 2116 to book an appointment.