Exercise and Fertility – What You Need to Know

Exercise and Fertility

We’ve all heard the saying of “everything in moderation.”  

As it turns out, that holds especially true for exercise – particularly for women concerned with their fertility.

Exercise can HURT my chances of fertility?

The short answer is YES.  

The longer answer is slightly more complicated, but crucial to understanding how you can pursue a healthy fitness lifestyle without putting your fertility at risk.

Research has shown that moderate exercise, between one to five hours per week in total of “non-strenuous” activity, may actually increase fertility levels.  “Non-strenuous” exercises should increase your heart rate and have you breathing deeply, but shouldn’t leave you feeling exhausted or breathless.  Examples of moderate exercise can include swimming, walking, cycling, and similar activities. On the other hand, research has suggested that strenuous exercise, like HIIT (high intensity interval training), running, heavy weightlifting, or Crossfit, have the potential to adversely impact your fertility levels.  Specifically, engaging in aerobic activity for 7+ hours / week was shown to potentially increase the risk of complications in ovulation, while strenuous exercise lasting 4+ hours / week was shown to potentially correlate with a reduced chance of success when undergoing IVF. 

But why?

Research has suggested that excessive strenuous exercise can interfere with women’s ovulation cycles. As for the potential reason for this connection, two main causes have been suggested.

Firstly, it has been hypothesized that strenuous exercise may be interfering with the luteal phase – the window of time separating your ovulation and period. While this timeframe usually extends from 12 to 16 days, excessive exercise can result in the phase shortening, which in turn reduces the level of progesterone produced.  Since progesterone is crucial in allowing a fertilized egg to stick to the lining of the uterus, its reduction can have a direct impact on fertility.

The second possible connection for strenuous exercise impacting fertility stems from how it also affects your hormones.  Hormones such as GnRH, FSH and LH influence and regulate your reproductive system, and the impact on their levels that strenuous exercise creates can potentially impair your fertility as well.

Related Risks

Women engaged in strenuous exercises may also be dieting and cutting calories.  However, cutting too aggressively can result in not consuming the necessary amounts of healthy fats.  This deficiency, as well as rapid weight loss or general malnourishment, can impair your ovulation.  This risk factor is increased because of the influences of strenuous exercise on your leptin levels, which controls metabolism and appetite. When leptin levels become imbalanced, you may have difficulty consuming enough calories to maintain healthy nutrition.

Weight a Minute, Before You Go….

One other critical discovery of recent studies has been that they appear to apply primarily to women already at a healthy weight level.  For those struggling with obesity, strenuous exercise may in fact increase your chances of pregnancy.  The far greater risk for women in this category is the impact that obesity has on fertility levels.  Fortunately, every step of your weight loss journey will improve your odds, with just a 10% loss in body weight significantly improving both health and fertility levels among obese women.

If you have any questions about fertility or your specific health concerns, the team at the Fertility Institute of San Diego, can give you the support you need. They are a boutique San Diego fertility center that firmly believes that total wellness is an essential component during your fertility journey and pregnancy. Dr. Hosseinzadeh and her dedicated team of fertility specialists are here to help you throughout any part of your journey. Southern California residents can take advantage and book a free virtual consultation with Dr. Hosseinzadeh, to go over nutrition or any other fertility related questions, by going here.

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