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A recent study conducted by researchers at University College London delved into the cognitive fluctuations experienced by women throughout their menstrual cycle. While the physical impacts of menstruation on athletic performance have been extensively discussed, the study, published in Neuropsychologia, sheds light on the mental aspect of the game.

Women with natural menstrual cycles have better cognition

The study utilized online cognitive tasks to assess various cognitive abilities such as reaction times, attention, visuospatial functions, and timing anticipation. Surprisingly, the results indicated that naturally cycling women exhibited better cognitive performance during menstruation compared to other phases of their cycle. This improvement persisted despite the participants reporting poorer mood and more physical symptoms during their period. Conversely, cognitive performance declined during the late follicular phase and the luteal phase.

Dr. Flaminia Ronca, the study’s lead author, highlighted the unexpected nature of these findings, challenging prevailing assumptions about women’s abilities during menstruation. The study underscores the need to reconsider the menstrual cycle’s influence not only on physical but also on cognitive performance, especially in female athletes.

One notable aspect of the study was the disconnect between women’s perceptions of their cognitive abilities and their actual performance. Many participants believed their thinking was impaired during menstruation, contrary to the study’s findings. This highlights the impact of negative expectations and the importance of educating athletes about their physiological changes throughout the menstrual cycle.

Understanding body changes can help athletes optimize performance

While the study provides valuable insights, it’s crucial to acknowledge the individual differences in women’s cycles and broad conclusions should be drawn cautiously. Nonetheless, the study emphasizes the necessity of incorporating the menstrual cycle into considerations of cognitive sports training and injury risk management for female athletes.

Dr. Megan Lowery, one of the study’s authors, emphasized the significance of understanding how women’s brains and bodies change throughout the month. This knowledge, she believes, can empower women to adapt and optimize their performance accordingly. As efforts to support female athletes in achieving their full potential continue, acknowledging the holistic influence of the menstrual cycle on cognitive function may prove instrumental.