Whilst moderate exercise helps relieve stress and prepare a body for a healthy pregnancy, spending too much time in the gym can impair a woman’s fertility, according to a new study of 3,000 women published in last month’s edition of Human Reproduction.
In our book, Making Babies, we suggest that women who are trying to conceive do enough exercise to maintain a normal level of fitness and but that they do it in a way that makes them feel good physically and mentally, not drained or exhausted. This advice is seconded by Sigridur Lara Gudmundsdottir, who led the study, ” we found two groups who experienced an increased risk of infertility. There were those who trained almost every day, and there were those who trained until they were completely exhausted. Those who did both had the highest risk of infertility.”
The researchers believe that high levels of physical activity consume so much energy that the body experiences short periods of time where there simply is not enough energy to maintain all the necessary hormonal mechanisms that make fertilization possible.
This correlates with the way traditional Chinese medicine sees the effects of too much exercise on qi. Qi is the word used to describe the body’s ability to warm, move and make transformations. For thousands of years Chinese doctors have cautioned their patients not to deplete their qi, if they are trying to conceive, because weak qi can lead to failure to ovulate or affect the embryo’s ability to implant.
The key is moderation. Too much exercise depletes qi whilst moderate exercise can help build qi. This is supported by previous research which has shown that moderate physical activity gives women better insulin function and an improved hormonal profile. In this recent study there is no evidence of impaired fertility through moderate amounts of exercise. Gudmundsdottir advises that women who want to conceive should still maintain their fitness but avoid extremes.
‘We believe it is likely that physical activity at a very high or very low level has a negative effect on fertility, while moderate activity is beneficial,’ she said.