ANXIETY about periods is putting girls off sport and exercise and a lack of education is to blame, according to a survey.

Research, published to coincide with Women’s Sport Week, comes a fortnight after Olympic long-jumper Jazmin Sawyers revealed she had withdrawn from a competition at the last minute because of extreme period pains.

A campaign is calling for better education about periods in schools, breaking down taboos and creating an atmosphere in which girls can talk about the issue. It begins today and is backed by Team GB hockey player Sam Quek.

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She called for more elite sportswomen to be more honest about their own experiences and for schools to do more to tackle attitudes by discussing the issue openly.

The survey revealed that 45 per cent of Scots women questioned had used periods as an excuse to skip PE class, whether they were feeling well or not. Fewer than one in five (17 per cent) actually felt in too much pain or too tired to take part in exercise.

According to the betty for schools programme, which provides free period education materials, this suggests embarrassment rather than physical concerns is the biggest barrier to participation.

Fears expressed by young women included concerns about leaking (42 per cent) and about sanitary protection being visible or moving around (29 per cent).

However, experiences varied and half (51 per cent) the women surveyed in the country said they had experienced periods that were too heavy or painful to take part in sport at some point in their lives.

Furthermore, 58 per cent agreed that avoiding PE and sports in school due to periods could lead to girls carrying their negative feelings about exercise and sport into adulthood.

While around two-thirds said they dreaded games lessons, almost three- quarters (73 per cent) said that, if girls were better educated about periods and how they affect their bodies, they wouldn’t be so reluctant to take part in PE.

Supporting the campaign, which launches today, Sam Quek said: “I find it really sad that periods – something all women experience for a big part of our lives – are creating a barrier to sport for so many. We have to work to break down taboos around periods – this starts with elite sportswomen being more open and honest, with schools creating the environment where girls can talk about the changes their bodies are going through.”

One of the campaign’s goals is wider understanding of the likely benefits of exercise during menstruation, which the campaign says are not sufficiently well known: improved circulation has been found to ease cramps, while endorphins released during a workout can reduce the perception of pain. Almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of women asked thought more girls would participate in school sports if they knew more about and understood the benefits of exercise while menstruating.

Materials produced for primary and secondary pupils by betty for schools are accredited by the English Personal, Social and Health Education Association.

Becky Hipkiss, education manager at the company, said: “More needs to be done to teach young girls about the benefits of exercise and to help them overcome the embarrassment about this perfectly natural time of the month.”