25 Oct You learn certain skills faster in the first half of your cycle
BY GABRIELLE LICHTERMAN
OCTOBER 25, 2020—They say practice makes perfect. But, if you’re looking to pick up a new skill that requires you to learn certain types of physical movements–such as drumming, swinging a bat, knitting or roller blading–and you have a monthly menstrual cycle, when you start to practice matters, too.
That’s the word from a 2020 study out of Japan’s Niigata University of Health and Welfare that found you’ll be more successful at mastering new physical movements when you begin learning them in the first half of your cycle–Week 1 and Week 2 aka your follicular phase–than you would in the second half of your cycle–your Week 3 and Week 4 aka your luteal phase.1
The cycle-learning link
According to the study authors, practicing physical movements (called motor learning) is easier in the first half of your cycle thanks to rising estrogen. This hormone helps the brain process the memory of the motions you’re making while also increasing neural plasticity, which helps the brain create new connections. Together, this makes repeating the same motion again and again (such as hitting drums in a certain pattern) get cemented into your memory banks faster so you can do it without even thinking about it.
By contrast, elevated progesterone in the second half of your cycle slows down memory consolidation and your brain’s ability to adapt to new information. As a result, compared to the first half of your cycle, you tend to make less progress with the same amount of practice.
On top of that, the researchers note that premenstrual mood and body changes–such as irritability and aches–could also thwart your progress. It may be that the symptoms themselves are distracting or that women with premenstrual woes also tend to have changes in their motor cortex–the brain area involved in learning movement–during their premenstrual phase that makes it more challenging to adopt new physical skills.
What this means for you
If you’re planning to join a class, get an instructional book, watch a video or ask someone to teach you a new skill that requires you to use your body in a specific way, or that advances your existing skills with a new technique, then try to sync up your first lessons with the first half of your cycle. You’ll absorb the information faster and your body will adapt more quickly than if you started learning in the second half of your cycle. This will, in turn, give you a running start that keeps you motivated throughout your entire cycle.
But, what if you can’t sync your first lessons with the first half of your cycle? Not a problem! If you’re learning during the second half of your cycle, keep in mind that elevated progesterone and premenstrual woes may slow you down. Then, do what you can to cope with, or even overcome, these challenges. For example, practice the new movement more times than you normally would to get it to stick into your memory. And, do what you can to thwart pre-period complaints by revving your mood and confidence before you begin your lesson, say, by listening to inspiring fast-paced music.
This way, no matter when you begin learning a new motor skill in your menstrual cycle, you’ll be more successful and enjoy your educational journey a whole lot more.
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(1) Koyuki Ikarashi, et al., “Menstrual Cycle Modulates Motor Learning and Memory Consolidation in Humans,” Brain Sciences, 10 (2020):E696
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