Thrush and Exercise: All You Need To Know
We explore what thrush is, how exercise can affect its growth and what can be done whilst working out to reduce the risk of a thrush infection.
Updated: Tuesday 28 November 2023
Thrush is an incredibly common condition that, although not necessarily dangerous, can be very uncomfortable - particularly during day-to-day activities. Data from 2018 showed that around 138 million women around the world have experienced the condition more than once . However, thrush is highly treatable so do not stress!
What is thrush?
Thrush is an overgrowth of yeast, or more specifically, the candida fungus in different areas of the body that can cause irritation. Among adults, the most common area where thrush forms is on the genitals; either on the penis or around the vagina. However it can also appear in other areas of the body if the conditions allow it to thrive, such as the armpits, groin or between the fingers. An overgrowth of the candida fungus in your mouth is known as oral thrush, however, this form and most other types of thrush are highly treatable with a variety of simple medications.
Yeast is actually a natural inhabitant of the body - it’s found on the skin, in the digestive system and in the vagina. It plays an important role in keeping the body balanced and healthy, particularly with the digestive and immune system, by absorbing vitamins and minerals from food and helping the body fight disease. Whilst some of it is good for the body, too much can disrupt the crucial balances within the body, leading to thrush.
What causes thrush?
Thrush appears in different areas of the body for a variety of reasons. However, when looking at genital thrush specifically, the cause could be:
- Trapped moisture between folds of the skin, like sweat
- Hormone changes
- Using perfumed shower products
- Not properly drying the genital area after washing
- Having a autoimmune disease or being immunocompromised
Although genital thrush can appear after sex, it’s important noting that it is not contagious, so cannot be sexually transmitted.
What does thrush look like?
In regards to a thrush growth in the vagina, the symptoms will appear as:
- Usually odourless white discharge from the vagina that will appear different to regular discharge - it may look similar to cottage cheese
- Irritation, burning and soreness around the affected area
- A stinging sensation whilst urinating or during sex
When experiencing thrush on the penis, the symptoms will similarly be:
- White discharge from the penis that smells unpleasant & resembles cottage cheese
- Irritation or redness on the head of the penis or under the foreskin
- Difficulty pulling back the foreskin
How does exercise affect thrush?
During exercise, to ensure the body doesn’t overheat, it secretes sweat from the 2-4 million sweat glands located throughout the skin. There are two types of sweat glands;
- Eccrine: usually odourless and which can be found in the soles of the feet, palms, forehead and cheeks.
- Apocrine: which can be found in the genital region and armpits, and produces a thicker liquid than eccrine glands, that when in contact with bacteria, can create a potent smell - body odour.
Wearing tight clothes like leggings that don’t allow your body to cool and exercising for a prolonged period of time without showering can lead to a concentration of sweat, particularly areas where the apocrine glands are located. In turn, the warm moist environment creates the perfect conditions for harbouring thrush growth.
In addition, the type of exercise you’re doing may also correlate with your risk of developing thrush. Cycling and swimming have long been associated with genital problems - thrush being no exception. Also, as the temperature outside increases and we roll into summer, this can be another factor in creating an ideal environment for thrush, particularly when exercising outside.
How do you reduce your risk of thrush whilst exercising?
There’s no need to stop exercising, even if you are currently experiencing thrush, so long as you make the necessary changes to your exercise routine and educate yourself on which components of your workout may be promoting the growth of thrush. Here’s our advice for what changes you can make!
- Form of Exercise: If you are prone to increased sweating, thrush infections or currently experiencing thrush, it may be best to change the type of workout you’re doing. It could be beneficial to switch your cycling sessions to something like running, or having a workout at the gym.
- Clothing: Wear cotton or loose-fitting clothing, and don’t buy materials that can contribute to friction in areas of the body prone to sweating. If swimming is your go-to activity, make sure you are not sitting in your swimsuit after finishing as this can keep warm sweat and water trapped. Make sure you also wash your workout gear after each use!
- Breaks: Having pauses in your workout will allow your body to cool itself down and give you a chance to air out your clothing.
- Workout Intensity: The consultant gynaecologist of thrush treatment Canesten, Anne Henderson, noted that sometimes it’s not the form of exercise that can lead to thrush, “but the extent and excessive nature of it”, which is why she often sees more patients for thrush ahead of the London Marathon due to intense training.
- Hygiene: For all forms of exercise, it’s recommended to remove your workout clothes as soon as you can, shower & dry properly, and change into clean clothes. However it is also important not to shower too much, as this can alter your genitals’ pH balance, and cause harm.
- Thrush Treatments: There are a number of preventative changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to reduce your risk of thrush. Ultimately, if you are trying to clear the fungal infection as fast as possible, antifungal medication is recommended. We offer a range of thrush treatments; Fluconazole oral tablets that contain the active ingredient fluconazole; clotrimazole which is found in Canesten Internal Cream, Canesten Pessary, Canesten 1% External Cream & Canesten 2% External Cream. We also offer Canesten Thrush Duo which contains a combination of the topical clotrimazole cream and the Fluconazole tablet.