Exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. If you’re regularly exercising, we salute you. If you’re considering starting an exercise routine, we encourage you to do so.
Patients often ask about exercise and fertility. For most women, it is not a major factor in their
journey to get pregnant. However, in some instances, exercise can either help or hurt a person’s fertility potential.
We’ll take a look at why exercise affects your fertility. We’ll also provide some useful suggestions to help you stay healthy while trying to conceive.
Can Exercise Affect Fertility?
Exercise can affect fertility because exercise has effects on multiple female hormones. This includes estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as well as hormones like cortisol and insulin. These all influence ovulation, the release of an egg, and generally improve pregnancy rates and outcomes. A large meta analysis determined that this effect was influenced by the type, intensity and duration of physical activity as well as a woman’s own weight and hormonal status.
How Does My Weight Affect My Fertility Level?
Women with a normal weight can have improved fertility rates when they exercise. Regular exercise reduces the incidence of ovulatory disorders. Regular activity stimulates egg production.
Women with BMIs over 30 are less likely to ovulate. An exercise program that includes regular aerobic activity of at least 30 minutes per day is enough to help improve ovulation rates in heavier women. This may also lead to weight loss. Even a small weight loss of 5-10% can improve rates of ovulation.
Alternatively, women with BMI <18.5 can find that exercise impairs their ability to conceive. Too much exercise can change hormonal levels. In particular, we see that there is a luteal phase defect which can interfere with egg implantation. If you are underweight, exercise may also reduce the signals that your brain sends to the ovaries to cause ovulation.
How Much Exercise and Which Exercises Should I Participate In?
We recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This can be achieved with walking, swimming, an exercise class, dancing, or yard work. The key is to find exercise that you enjoy so you are motivated to continue it. If you have more intense workouts already in place, it is usually okay to continue them as well.
HITT classes, running, CrossFit are examples of more strenuous exercise. If you have not conceived in a few months or are experiencing irregular periods, then consider lowering your exercise levels to one hour four times a week. You may also want to increase your calorie intake to 2400-3500 calories/day. This may help bring underweight women back up their weight and allow for better ovulation.
Exercise Has Many Health Benefits
Exercise is known to have many health benefits. Exercise can:
- Reduce stress
- Lower the rate of diabetes
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Improve bone density
- Reduce the risk of breast cancer by 25%
- Reduce your risk of depression and anxiety
- Promote better sleep
- Keep your thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp as you age
Remember that exercise is only one factor that we look at when discussing fertility issues. Many sedentary women or women who are competitive athletes conceive pregnancy without difficulty. However, if someone has irregular periods or has had difficulty becoming pregnant, please contact us for further evaluation and discussion.
Other Factors That Can Influence Fertility
Now that we’ve answered the question about how exercise affects fertility, let’s look at some other factors.
Smoking and Alcohol
Did you know that smoking ages your ovaries? It can also contribute to a dwindling egg supply. If you want to quit or are having difficulty quitting, speak with us. We can help you devise an effective strategy to leave cigarettes behind you.
Heavy drinking is also associated with ovulation problems. If you’re planning to get pregnant, you should NOT drink alcohol. Why? There’s no “safe” level of fetal alcohol. For that reason, we recommend that you quit drinking altogether when you’re trying to conceive.
Cut Back on Caffeine
Don’t panic: We’re not asking you to give up your morning cup of Joe from Starbucks. Because excessive coffee drinking can influence fertility, it’s best to limit your java to one cup a day. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that you should have less than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day.
While decaf is an option, it’s important to realize that there is still some caffeine even in decaf drinks, and that may vary depending upon the brand.
Also, coffee is not the only source of caffeine. Be aware of your intake of items such as chocolate, tea, and energy drinks.
Avoid Toxin Exposure
Any toxins, such as pesticides, lead, BPA and dry cleaning chemicals can negatively impact your fertility.
Chapel Hill OBGYN Has Helped Hundreds of Women Have Healthy Babies
We know conception can be difficult. Many of our patients have faced the heartbreaking devastation of infertility, and we have helped them along their journey to conceive and deliver healthy babies.
If you’re having difficulty conceiving, or if you want to be sure your body is prepared for pregnancy, contact us for an appointment. See why we’re the Chapel Hill gynecologists and Durham gynecologists who have been recognized as the best in the Triangle!