Understanding the Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is a natural process that occurs in females on a periodic basis. The complex cycle is regulated by female hormones and causes regular bleeding. Both men and women are familiar with menstrual cycles, but not everyone understands how and why the process actually occurs.

Menstrual cycles feature four distinct phases including: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Menstruation prepares the body for pregnancy. A woman that is not pregnant sheds the lining of her uterus – known as a period. After the period starts, the cycle repeats itself.

Let’s take a closer look into the menstrual cycle to understand how it works at a biological level.

What is the Menstrual Cycle?

Menstrual cycles prepare a woman’s body for pregnancy. If a woman is not pregnant, her hormones send a signal to the uterus to shed its lining. At this point in time, the period occurs. The cycle then repeats itself again on a continual basis unless a woman becomes pregnant. If a female does not begin this cycle, it can be an early sign of pregnancy.

A menstrual cycle is measured between the first day of a period to the first day of their next period. Although many women have menstrual cycles in predetermined 28 day intervals, other factors can affect cycle length. Younger women may experience cycles that are 45 days or longer in length. Women in their 20s or 30s may have cycles lasting between 21 and 38 days. 

The average age for a woman’s first period is 12 to 13, but sometimes it can occur at a younger or older age. Women will experience menstrual cycles until their 50s or 60s – at which point in time menopause typically occurs.

What are the Phases of Menstrual Cycles?

A menstrual cycle consists of four distinct phases.

Menstrual Phase

The menstrual phase is when the period happens. As a woman menstruates, their uterus lining sheds and flows out of the vagina. Blood, mucus, and cells lining the uterus are pushed out of the body. For most women, a period can last three to seven days. 

Follicular Phase

The follicular phase begins on the first day of the period and continues for up to two weeks until ovulation. The pituitary gland in the brain secretes hormones that stimulate ovary production. One follicle matures into an egg at some point after day 10 – at which point the uterus lining thickens in preparation for eventual pregnancy.


During ovulation, a mature egg is released from an ovary and continues through a fallopian tube towards the uterus. Ovulation normally happens once a month or two weeks prior to the next period. The ovulation period lasts somewhere between 16 and 32 hours in duration.

Pregnancy can occur in the five days prior to ovulation, but is most likely in the three days leading up to ovulation. The egg is released during this time, surviving up to 24 hours. If a sperm reaches the egg, pregnancy may occur.

Luteal Phase

After ovulation, cells in the ovary release progesterone and estrogen. As this happens, the lining of the uterus begins to thicken to prepare for pregnancy. Fertilized eggs can then be implanted in the uterus lining to maintain the thickened lining of the uterus.

If a pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop causing the uterus lining to shed – at which point in time the period cycle restarts.

How to Handle Each Phase

You should take care during each phase of the menstrual cycle to optimize overall health and vitality. Here’s some things to consider throughout each cycle phase:

  • Menstrual: Be sure to rest during this time. Lighter exercise movements such as meditative walks or yoga may be best during this stage instead of over exertion. Drinking tea and limiting fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine can help to balance hormone levels during this phase.
  • Follicular: Low stamina may be experienced. Hiking, light runs, or yoga are ideal. Concentrate on eating foods that metabolize estrogen such as sprouted or fermented foods such as broccoli sprouts and kimchi.
  • Ovulation: With testosterone and estrogen peaking, higher intensity interval workouts or spin classes may be performed during this time. Consume anti-inflammatory foods such as whole fruits, vegetables, and almonds. 
  • Luteal: Progesterone is rising during this time. Strength training, pilates, or more intense yoga sessions are advised. Consume foods that produce serotonin such as leafy greens, quinoa, and buckwheat. Avoid foods that may cause discomfort or cramps, such as caffeine.

  • Altering lifestyle habits around your cycle can help women feel better physically and mentally. Opening up the dialogue about menstruation helps women feel empowered to make positive choices that impact their health and well-being.

    If you would like to learn more about how you can alter your lifestyle to match hormonal changes, feel free to contact us. We’re here to help you reach your long-term health goals.