by Dr. Jill Blakeway, DACM, L.Ac

Why Regular Exercise Can Improve Your Fertility (and how to know if you’re doing too much).

Here at the YinOva Center, we see many patients who are hesitant to exercise whilst they are trying to get pregnant. Some doctors don’t want to recommend exercise to patients who are planning to conceive and some even warn against it. In reality, exercise, if done in moderation, can actually benefit your fertility. The only thing to be mindful of is over-exercising.

This was a subject Dr. David and I tackled very thoroughly in our bestselling fertility book Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility. We felt strongly that women who are trying to conceive should exercise regularly (though not to exhaustion).

Balance seems to be the key. It’s true that intense exercise can cause women to stop ovulating, but newer research shows that moderate exercise actually benefits fertility. One finding to emerge from the Nurses’ Health Study was a reduction in the risk of ovulatory infertility with exercise. The study found that hitting the gym three to five times a week could bring the risk down by as much as 25 percent or more.

Regular activity helps the body control blood sugar levels by burning off sugar in the blood. That means insulin can work as it is meant to, without going to the kinds of extremes that can interfere with ovulatory function and  conception. Exercise also helps keep androgens at appropriate levels so they will help, not hinder, fertility.

Exercise fights inflammation, too, decreasing the chances that it can get in the way of conceiving. And exercise relieves stress, which can improve fertility as well.

What You Can Do About It

There’s no reason not to exercise when you are trying to conceive. Normal exercise will not impede fertility, and we all know it’s a key component of weight control, making it key for optimum fertility as well. The bottom line is, exercise is good for you. So just do it! In fact you are more likely to have fertility problems traceable to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle than to overdoing it physically, as noted in the Nurses’ Health Study previously mentioned.

Our general recommendation for exercising to maximize fertility is pretty much the same as for exercising to maximize overall health. Most people should try to get at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise almost every day— more if you are trying to lose weight. Also keeping mind that variety is key! Make sure you spice things up and are doing a combination of aerobics, strengthening exercises, and stretching. If you haven’t been exercising regularly or at all, now is an excellent time to start. But start slowly and gradually build up so as not to stress your body.

In Making Babies Dr. David and I identified 5 fertility types so that we could give our readers specially tailored fertility advice. You can read more about the types and take a quiz to identify your type here.

Once you have taken the quiz and identified your fertility type you’ll find a complete exercise for each type in the book.

How much is too much?

You can keep tabs on how much exercise is too much for you not by the number of minutes spent exercising but by the intensity. Exercise should make you feel good, physically and emotionally, not completely drained or exhausted. While you are trying to conceive, stay away from your peak exercise level. If you exercise to the point where you get that endorphin rush, try to scale back. That rush is a sure sign you’re overdoing it from a fertility perspective.

Estrogen levels decrease in women when they really push themselves physically— enough to potentially stop ovulation— so it makes sense for those who frequently exercise intensely for extended periods of time to cut back a bit. Now is perhaps not the time to go into training for a competitive marathon.

Hormone levels and menstrual cycles will return to normal when women stop doing such intense exercise, so this is a problem with a simple solution. In women with very low body weight, even less extreme exercise can negatively affect ovulation. Lean women need to be sure to keep “moderation” as their watchword when it comes to exercise. But that’s good advice for all women wanting to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.

When it comes to exercise, don’t overdo it!

Exercising Through Your Cycle

In Making Babies Dr. David and I made the following suggestions for exercising throughout your cycle to maximize your chances of getting pregnant.

Phase 1 (Menstruation)

  • Avoid strenuous aerobic exercise during your period.
  • Try workouts with a meditative bent, such as yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.

Phase 2 (Pre-ovulation)

  • Spend twenty to thirty minutes a day on aerobic exercise.

Phase 3 (Ovulation)

  • Exercise gently; try swimming, walking, yoga, or qi gong. Avoid exercise that involves high impact, such as running or step aerobics.
  • Exercise gets the blood moving, which encourages good blood flow to the uterus, so it’s particularly beneficial around ovulation.

Phase 4 (Potential Implantation)

  • Get moderate exercise to keep the qi and blood moving after ovulation, when an embryo may be trying to implant, but avoid intensely aerobic exercise or high-impact exercise, such as jogging or trampolining (unless you are sure you are not pregnant).
  • Walking, cycling, swimming, yoga, and qi gong are all good choices.

If you need more in-depth fertility counseling, all the practitioners here at the YinOva Center have many years of experience helping couples to conceive. We love our job and are happy to chat to you about any aspect of the fertility journey.

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