The importance of exercise towards fertility
The importance of exercise along with a healthy balanced diet is well known to be crucial for our health! However, most people don’t realize that physical activity also has a huge influence on our fertility (both guys and gals)!
You may need to re-think your exercise plans! Either too little or too much exercise can play havoc with your chances of conceiving. Balance is the key! We'll discuss how this works…
Our overall general health plays a significant role towards a fully functioning reproductive system. Numerous bodily functions interact with each other, contributing towards how our reproductive hormones and sexual organs work.
If you're unfit your metabolism will be sluggish and not working at its best. You'll also have a lowered immune system leaving you prone to illness. Many common health disorders can lead to delayed conception, fertility problems, or infertility!
This is where the importance of exercise comes into the picture! The good news is, that many of these health problems can be either prevented or alleviated via a sensible exercise routine. This basically means that the healthier you are, the more chance you'll have of conceiving (this means guys too)! Of course, kicking any bad lifestyle habits (e.g. cigarettes) also helps. Gals, the fitter and healthier you are before conception the better, as this will help lower your chances for any pregnancy complications.
Numerous research from around the world has confirmed the importance of exercise (in moderation) in regards to our fertility. Physical activity can help increase blood flow to our sexual organs, and help re-balance our reproductive hormones (chemical messengers). This can promote sperm cell production, improve sperm count/quality, and help encourage normal ovulation cycles (to name just a few good reasons)!
Benefits of physical exercise
The importance of exercise is often overlooked in today's hectic world. Just by introducing regular physical activity into our lives, we can improve so many different aspects of our health, lifestyle, and happiness! Exercise can help us with the following -
Back in our ancestors times, people had to hunt and gather their own food, build their own houses, and sow their own crops. There were no cars and people didn't work in offices for eight hours a day. As you can see, physical activity came naturally. Modern society and our bodies haven't adapted together. Therefore we need to do all we possibly can to make up for this lack of activity, hence the importance of exercise!
Body weight and nutrition are just as important!
Check out our page regarding recommended body weight for optimal fertility, and see how you compare against our body mass index chart. If you're either overweight or underweight this can cause hormonal imbalances that effect the reproductive system. This applies for men and women!
Why is nutrition important? Good nutrition goes hand in hand with the importance of exercise! You've probably heard the expression you are what you eat. Well it's true! Find out what the essential nutrients are and their roles within the body. Eating well can aid our fertility health enormously!
How much exercise do we need?
Because of the well known importance of exercise, most health experts suggest 30 minutes physical activity, five or six days per week. What may surprise you, is the fact that splitting that time up into three - 10 minute intervals, or two 15 minute, is just as effective (as studies conclude). So if you're a busy person, you can incorporate short bursts of activity into your daily routines.
A moderate level of activity should increase your breathing and heart rate, as well as making you break a light sweat. You should still be able to carry out a conversation if there was someone working out alongside. If you're out of breath and unable to talk, then you may be working too hard!
There are also many ways we can sneak some extra exercise into our day. For example, park the car a little away from the shops and walk the extra distance. Take the stairs instead of the lift at work, or do a few press ups during television ad breaks. Easy isn’t it! Yes, this may sound a little cliche but it actually works!
What type of exercise?
Simple! It doesn’t really matter what type of activity you choose, as long as you do something! Just remember the importance of exercise towards your health, so get out there and make the effort! If this is all new to you, why don’t you just try walking. This is one of the best overall exercises, it’s easy, low impact, and you can take it at your own pace.
You can also make exercise fun! Combine different activities that interest you, and exercise at different locations - such as a walk in the park, beach, or forest. Go for a swim at your local pool, or even join a dance class. This way there's less chance of getting bored, and you're more likely to stick with it!
There are also lots of fun sports and games out there that you could try, which are great social activities. Having an exercise buddy is also great motivation!
Don’t forget to always warm up and cool down by doing some stretches (to avoid pulling any muscles) and keep hydrated!
*Please note - We always advise that you consult your personal physician before starting any form of exercise. Start with a very low level of physical activity as you will need to build up your fitness level slowly.
So, we now know all about the importance of exercise, but there are some people who go to the extreme and do way too much activity (very intensive or excessive). This has been proven to be detrimental to our fertility levels!
Exercise releases endorphins (a neurochemical) which is secreted by our pituitary gland in the brain. Substantial amounts of this chemical enter our system during a strenuous workout. Endorphins block sensations of pain (three times more potent than morphine) and produce feelings of euphoria. While this is normally a good thing, some people can become addicted to this feeling. This is sometimes referred to as runners high! Therefore we must emphasize how the importance of exercise levels are just as critical towards our fertility health!
A moderate level of physical activity is the most beneficial before, and whilst you and your partner are trying for a baby.
Men who over exert themselves are risking their sperm supply. One cause is through major over heating of the testicles whilst doing very strenuous physical activity. The male anatomy is made in such a way, so the scrotal sac is hanging away from the body. This is so the testis are several degrees cooler than the core body temperature, as sperm are extremely susceptible to heat damage. Even so, you can still overdo it!
Many male endurance athletes have been proven to have significantly diminished testosterone levels (hormone needed for sperm production). Although research is still a little hazy regarding the cause, scientists have put forward a suggestion as to why this may be the case.
During excessively intense training the body can release cortisol, one of our stress hormones. This may be released because the individual is substantially exceeding his maximum oxygen intake. This physical stressor tricks the body into thinking it’s in danger - for example running away from harm. Therefore this adrenalin hormone takes over. A link has been found between these two hormones, therefore this increase in cortisol, relates to the lowered testosterone levels.
Some female athletes can stop menstruating altogether as a result of the loss of too much body fat! Statistics claim that up to 50% of female endurance athletes suffer from menstrual irregularities.
The reason for this is that body fat helps to produce estrogen, and this hormone is required for ovulation. In fact 30% of estrogen is produced by women’s fat cells. With this balance out of order ovulation may not occur (oligomenorrhea) or become very irregular (amenorrhea). A diminished estrogen level can also bring about early onset of lowered bone density (more prevalent in older women) which can increase the risks of fractures.
Research - A study was done to examine the relationship between the risk of ovulatory dysfunction infertility and vigorous exercise. Published in the American Journal of Public Health - 1986, volume 76, issue 12, 1432-1436.
A group of 346 infertile women whom showed evidence of ovulatory failure were interviewed. Their exercise patterns during the year preceding their unsuccessful attempts to conceive were examined. Responses were compared to women who had successfully become pregnant during the past year. Findings found that vigorous exercise for an hour or more per day, was more common among the women who did not conceive. Vigorous exercise on average of less than an hour per day wasn't associated with infertility.
A few extra considerations
Bike riding (men)
Guys, beware of bike seats cutting off the circulation to the testicles. This can damage sperm cells (yes really)! Numerous studies have come to the conclusion that many men are discouraging their chances of becoming a dad in this way (especially if you do regular long rides). If you're blessed with a very good sperm count, this isn't usually a problem, but you should still be cautious.
The importance of exercise is still the number one issue here, so there are several precautionary measures that you can take. Buy a cushioned bike seat cover and tilt your seat into a downwards position if possible. Don’t wear overly tight bike pants (avoid overheating) and take regular breaks while out riding. Your other option, is to temporarily substitute bike riding with another activity for a while.
Women undergoing fertility treatments
Because of the known importance of exercise towards our reproductive health, some fertility/IVF clinics are now introducing yoga classes into their treatment programs. Yoga is a low impact activity, and is proven to be a very effective form of exercise (plus it’s fun)! Going through fertility treatments can be extremely stressful, so this is a great way of relieving tension build up through combining stretching movements and poses.
We do have to mention that there has been some concern regarding women who over exert themselves whilst taking fertility drugs. In certain cases, these medications can cause the ovaries to swell quite substantially. There have been cases of the ovaries becoming very heavy and twisting during strenuous activity (called a torsion).
Therefore we advise for you to discuss all aspects of physical activity with your fertility specialist for advice. Individual circumstances may vary.
Remember the importance of exercise towards your overall health and well being. Look after, or improve your fertility by keeping your exercise routine at a moderate level before, and whilst you're trying to conceive. Keep it varied, and most of all guys and gals, enjoy yourselves!
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