Dec 9, 2019 by Hamza Sheraz.
Is it brilliantly liberating or just too intrusive? Alexandra Heminsley considers the new femtech.
FitrWoman has recently released an update. A pioneering app designed to help women exercise around their menstrual cycle is now free and available to us all. Cue an intake of breath and scornful sigh from women everywhere. We know what it feels like to have a period, thanks awfully. We know how we feel about exercising that week, too. And we don’t need an app bossing us around about something else.
But, hang on a minute. Might it actually… be useful?
On the one hand, this is an excellent addition to a marketplace (so-called “femtech”) that isn’t exactly overcrowded. A mere 7% of venture-capital partners are women, which perhaps explains why so few apps pay any attention to specifically female issues, such as menstruation or post-natal fitness. When the Apple Watch was launched, trumpeting its ability to monitor absolutely every single element of our health, from blood alcohol to body temperature, it was without a single tool for tracking menstruation. Even today, it doesn’t register a pram being pushed as walking or even running. Does it think we’re… in the pram? Either way, it seems a little harsh that the one form of exercise most of us can do in those brutal first few weeks after childbirth goes unrecorded by Silicon Valley.
On the other hand, do we really need more gadgetry inserting itself between us and the simple act of going for a run, a swim or even a nice long walk? Deep down, don’t we really know that getting outside when we feel horrendous on day 29 does actually make us feel better? Is the internet’s endless need to gather data, render us quantifiable and report back to us on how we’re holding up compared to last month’s self really going to help us? As with so much technology, that line falls in a different place for each of us. There are inevitable worries about medical data being sold on to third parties, but in this case I am more than happy to offer up my statistics if it might make science less gendered and research less content to take a male body as “the norm”.Deep down, don’t we really know that getting outside when we feel horrendous on day 29 does actually make us feel better?
It’s notable that FitrWoman’s creators are, mercifully, women. No more “imagining” what it must be like to exercise during, before or after a period, we’re dealing with proper data here. Georgie Bruinvels, who has led the science behind the app, is a runner as well as a scientist who has studied iron metabolism in endurance athletes, as well as working for UK anti-doping. And she has taken her inspiration from recent Populus research, showing that 54% of women identified that they have had to stop exercising as a result of their menstrual cycle, as well as the Women In Sport poll which found 42% of girls aged 14-16 simply don’t exercise when on their period. Perhaps the loudest among us are happy to harrumph that we know all we need to about our bodies, while others who didn’t grow up with approachable sisters, mothers or teachers to chat to are still floundering, unsure about what our bodies are up to, why and what it all means.
Instead of merely warning us that A Week of Doom is on the horizon, the app aims to help women understand what exercise and nutrition (and when) might best enable us to work with our cycle, rather than trying to ignore it. Using evidence-based scientific research, it updates you on when to focus on strength or endurance training for the best results and what type of training to do to help reduce menstrual symptoms, when relevant. It also looks at what food will help when, and includes recipes, research and a basic running commentary on what your body is actually doing at each stage.
Let’s face it, this all sounds rather sensible, doesn’t it?
As for the intrusive nature of constantly logging ones stats with an app, it’s up to us to decide where that threshold lies. . After years of long runs and long swims, I have been enjoying some time rediscovering exercise and not being beholden to a training plan. However, if I were training for my first marathon or trying to smash a specific goal, I think I would find this invaluable. A chance to help myself, by changing my diet, should I realise that my period was going to fall just when I had a big training run planned, or a chance to amend my schedule in order to accommodate the dreaded Day 2 exhaustion, would have been bliss. It is very hard to disagree with the idea that better understanding of the relationship between our physical and emotional selves could ever be a bad thing. Let’s hope Silicon Valley catches up soon.