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Living with PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can affect your physical health and emotional wellbeing. It may also impact your relationships and sexual desire. Learn practical ways to improve your physical health and emotional wellbeing.

Topics on this page

Physical health

Having a healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to manage PCOS and reduce the severity of symptoms. This includes eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and reducing or stopping harmful habits such as smoking and excessive drinking.

It can be hard to manage your weight if you have PCOS. This includes maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight. Learn more about PCOS and weight management.

Changing your lifestyle can be challenging. Research suggests that women with PCOS are more likely to make and maintain lifestyle changes when they have a strong support network. A support network can include healthcare professionals, family and friends.

Physical activity

Physical activity is an important part of managing PCOS. It can improve symptoms and reduce the risk of developing long-term health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

For women with PCOS, there are many benefits of regular physical activity, including:

  • increased energy levels and fitness
  • weight loss and maintenance
  • improved self-confidence and motivation
  • improved emotional wellbeing
  • reduced androgen production and insulin resistance
  • improved menstrual cycle regularity
  • improved fertility.

What type of physical activity is best?

Research suggests that any type of regular physical activity helps to improve PCOS symptoms – even if there is little or no weight loss.

It’s a good idea to do a variety of physical activities so you stay interested and motivated. The type of activity is not important. It’s more important to enjoy what you’re doing. For example, you might walk with a friend, join a training group or enrol in a fun fitness class. You could also walk a little further from a car park or public transport stop to work.

And remember, physical activity includes walking and household chores as well as sports and planned exercise.

Try to do some type of physical activity every day for 30 minutes and increase this over time. You can break this up into smaller sessions (e.g. 10 to 15 minutes) throughout the day.

A combination of cardio and muscle strength activity is recommended.

Preventing weight gain

For women with PCOS who want to prevent weight gain and maintain health, do 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity activity or just over an hour of high-intensity activity per week – or a combination of both. Include muscle-strengthening activities.

Losing weight

For women with PCOS who want to lose weight without dieting, prevent putting weight back on or improve health, do just over 4 hours of moderate-intensity activity or about 2.5 hours of high-intensity activity per week – or a combination of both. Also do muscle-strengthening activities on two non-consecutive days per week.

Read the recommended guidelines for exercise.

How to get started

You may have negative views about exercise for different reasons. If you don’t know where to start or feel you might be at risk of injury, consider seeing a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist for advice and support.


While there’s no evidence that one diet is better than another in helping to manage PCOS symptoms, it’s recommended women with PCOS eat a healthy, balanced diet.

A healthy diet:

  • helps you to lose weight and prevent weight gain
  • ensures you get an adequate intake of nutrients, vitamins and minerals
  • helps to regulate hormone levels, which may improve PCOS symptoms such as acne, excess hair growth, menstrual cycle regularity and infertility
  • helps to reduce the risk of related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • is more effective than exercise alone in achieving a healthy weight.

What is a healthy diet?

A healthy diet means eating a variety of foods from the five food groups every day. For example, vegetables, fruit, grains, lean meats and reduced-fat dairy. It’s also important to focus on eating low-GI carbohydrates, which produce lower glucose and insulin levels in the blood, and drink plenty of water.

Healthy eating tips

  • If you want to lose weight, it’s more effective to reduce food (calorie) intake rather than follow a specific diet. Small dietary changes that can be maintained over time can lead to many health benefits.
  • It’s recommended that women with PCOS eat regularly (every three to four hours) to help stabilise their insulin levels. Aim to eat often but reduce portion sizes.
  • For lunch and dinner, aim for half of the food you eat to be vegetables and salad. The meal and snack suggestions below might help.

Focus on your goals

Remember that progress is not always straightforward. Many things in our lives can stop our best efforts to be healthy, such as stress and emotional challenges. These can be hard to predict and can seem overwhelming at times. The important thing is to stay focused on your goals. Some days you will succeed in meeting your goals, and other days you will not do as well, but in the end, you will make progress.

Your doctor or an accredited practising dietitian (APD) can help you find the right diet and support you to achieve your long-term goals.

Healthy meal and snack ideas

  • Half cup low-fat yoghurt, half cup berries and 2 dessertspoons of seeds and nuts.
  • 1 slice wholegrain dense low-GI bread with boiled or poached egg; ricotta, cottage or feta cheese with tomato and spinach; or 100g canned fish, such as sardines or tuna, with salsa of chopped tomatoes, parsley/basil/dill, optional red onion and a teaspoon of olive oil.
  • Bircher muesli using yoghurt and grated apple, but not the apple juice.
  • Smoothie of 1 cup low-fat milk (including almond or soy milk) and half cup unsweetened yoghurt, half cup berries and 2 dessertspoons freshly ground seeds,
  • Slice of frittata.
  • Scrambled eggs made with 2 eggs, freshly chopped herbs such as parsley or dill, crumbled feta cheese.
  • Omelette made with 2 eggs, feta or tasty cheese and chopped vegetables such as mushrooms, grated zucchini, onion and tomatoes.
  • Baked ricotta with cinnamon and berries.
  • Porridge made with one-third cup rolled oats, milk or milk substitute, half teaspoon cinnamon, 2 dessertspoons chopped nuts and seeds (choose from almond, walnuts, macadamia, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, linseeds, pepitas).
  • Slice of frittata.
  • Salad (equivalent to 2 cups of raw vegetables in quantity). Choose from lettuce, cucumber, tomato, sprouts and capsicum or steamed vegetables. Dress with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar). Add canned fish, a palm-sized portion of chicken or lean meat. Or add cottage/ricotta cheese or 2 boiled eggs. For an extra feeling of fullness, add 2 dessertspoons pepitas and sesame seeds.
  • Soup – chicken and vegetable or barley and lentil with a dollop of yoghurt, or cauliflower cannellini bean soup served with yoghurt or feta.
  • Tuna salad made with tinned tuna, 4-bean mix, fresh salad and chopped herbs.
  • One-pot chicken and greents.
  • Stir-fried vegetables and chicken, lean meat or tofu.
  • Lean meat, chicken or fish served with salad or vegetables (the Australian Cancer Council recommends moderate amounts of unprocessed lean red meat, equal to 65–100 g of cooked red meat, 3–4 times per week).
  • Sardines with tomato and green beans.
  • Rainbow meat loaf.
  • Roast dinner – try roasting vegetables that are less starchy, such as eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, red onion, and mushrooms, as well as some sweet potato. Leftover meat and roast vegetables can be eaten for lunch with a bunch of salad greens and balsamic dressing.
  • Small handful of raw nuts.
  • Unsweetened yoghurt.
  • An apple or a piece of stone fruit or kiwi fruit.
  • A boiled egg.
  • Tzatziki, baba ghanoush or humous and vegetable sticks (e.g. carrots, cucumber, celery).
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Herbal tea (e.g. spearmint tea).
  • Avoid soft drinks, fruit juice, flavoured milks and sports drinks as these contain added sugars and calories.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than 1 to 2 standard drinks per day and ensure regular alcohol-free days every week.
Make it tasty
  • Use fresh herbs for flavour (e.g. a good handful of mint can be added to coleslaw, canned beans and fresh vegetables).
  • Roast vegetables with garlic, olive oil and rosemary.
  • Tasty dressings (e.g. olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard or try the dressing on the red rice and aduki bean salad recipe for an Asian-inspired flavour.
  • Have different pestos on hand (e.g. coriander and Brazil-nut pesto) on salmon fillet. Or make a salad of steamed vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, zucchini and potatoes. Combine dill or coriander pesto with yoghurt and fresh lemon juice and mix through. Serve with chicken or fish.

Emotional wellbeing

Living with PCOS can affect your emotional wellbeing. Your feelings may vary depending on:

  • the severity of your symptoms
  • how long you’ve had symptoms
  • how long it’s taken to get a diagnosis
  • your treatment options
  • your stage of life
  • your plans to have children
  • your support networks.

If living with PCOS is affecting your emotional wellbeing, it’s important to get support and treat your symptoms.

Relationships and sex

It’s common for women with PCOS to have lowered sexual desire (libido).

Sexual desire varies from woman to woman and can be influenced by different factors. For example, your health, stress levels and mood.

Women with PCOS report more problems with sexual desire. This may be due to physical symptoms of PCOS (e.g. being overweight or having excess facial hair) leading to lowered mood or self-esteem.

If you feel that PCOS is affecting your sex life, it’s important to talk to your doctor. With the right support these issues can be improved.

If you have a partner, it may help to explain what you are going through. You can also ask them to read information about PCOS and support you when needed. It may be helpful to take them to your medical appointments so they have a better understanding of the condition.

Having PCOS and problems with fertility may make you feel worried, angry or depressed. This may also have an impact on your relationship. You can talk to your doctor, counsellor or psychologist about treatment options and ways to look after your emotional wellbeing.

If you have PCOS and you’re not sure whether you need to take contraception, talk to your doctor. Contraception such as the oral contraceptive pill may be the best option as it can also help to treat some symptoms.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at May 2023.

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

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Last updated: 
07 December 2023
Last reviewed: 
29 May 2023

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