If you’ve been trying to conceive, it’s likely that you have heard some conflicting information about exercise and fertility. You may be left with questions that you still don’t have a solid answer to: Should I exercise? If so, how much exercise is enough? Or too much? Are there any exercises I shouldn’t do?
The reality is that the answers vary depending on several factors, including your weight, how long you’ve been trying, your current level of fitness, and your doctor’s recommendations. Still, there are some guidelines laid out by the medical community that can help guide your exercise choices as you work to get your body ready to carry a child.
Can I exercise while trying to conceive?
The short answer is yes, you can and should exercise while TTC. The key is finding a balance between being sedentary and doing extreme exercises; if you fall too far on either end of the spectrum, your hormones could take a hit and negatively impact your fertility.
On one hand, being sedentary can contribute to weight gain, mood swings, and a lowered sex drive. On the other, exerting too much energy (or burning more calories than you’re eating) can trigger a stress response in your body. This can cause your pituitary gland to decrease hormone production, making it harder for you to ovulate. And while a reduction of even 5% body fat in obese women can improve fertility, losing too much body fat can cause estrogen levels to decline. Without enough estrogen, you may not ovulate.
To better understand what the recommended amounts of exercise are, The American Heart Association has given a standard set of guidelines:
- At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150
- At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
- Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week for additional health benefits
When you’re trying to conceive, it’s important that you do moderate-intensity exercises. To determine whether you’re performing moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise, you can use the talk test. During low-intensity exercise, the majority of people can sing. During moderate-intensity exercise, most people are able to carry on a conversation but not sing. Vigorous-intensity exercises are likely to make it so you can only say a few words between breaths. If you find yourself doing vigorous exercises, slow down until you’re back in the moderate range.
How will exercise affect my fertility? How can it impact my partner’s fertility?
There are a plethora of fertility benefits associated with exercise, for both men and women. Here’s the lowdown on the positive benefits of exercise while trying to conceive:
Some experts say that stress plays a role in roughly 30% of infertility problems, so lowering your stress levels is one way to maximize your chances of becoming pregnant. Of course, if you’ve been trying to conceive for a long time, stress can feel inevitable. By boosting endorphins, moderate-intensity exercise acts as stress relief.
One of the most obvious benefits of exercise is weight loss which, if you’re overweight, can be particularly helpful in improving fertility. In fact, in women with a body mass index over 30, weight loss has proven to increase fertility.
Men can also benefit from losing a few pounds because obesity can damage the DNA of sperm cells, as well as decrease his sperm count.
The delicate balance of hormones in men’s and women’s bodies plays a large role in fertility. Too much estrogen in men — usually caused by excess fat — can cause a decline in sperm health, while not enough estrogen in women can cause ovulation to become irregular or stop completely. Exercise can help ensure that all of your reproductive hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, stay balanced.
Improved sperm count, motility, and morphology
In order for healthy sperm to be created, it’s essential that a male’s body is healthy. Moderate exercise like jogging and yoga can boost sperm count, motility, and morphology. As long as he’s not overdoing it, the implementation of regular exercise can do wonders for his fertility.
Of course, too much of a good thing isn’t great. When it comes to exercising while you try to get pregnant, there are a few things you should take into consideration:
Low body fat
As mentioned above, losing body fat isn’t a bad thing if you’re overweight or obese. Quite the contrary — even a small reduction in body fat could help restore ovulation and increase the odds of getting pregnant. On the other end of that, if a woman loses too much body fat, hormone production can be disrupted and cause her menstrual cycle to become irregular. The real problem is when this change in menstruation impacts when ovulation occurs or causes ovulation to stop entirely.
It’s not just women that need to be concerned with low body fat, though. When a man’s body fat percentage becomes too low, his body lowers the production of testosterone, thus impacting his sperm count and sperm concentration.
According to this study, oxidative stress is “defined as a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and antioxidant defenses.” Strenuous exercise can increase oxidative stress, which can impact fertility by disrupting the way reproductive cells develop in men and women.
The effect of heat on sperm count
Our friends at dontcookyourballs.com have spoken extensively about the effect of heat on sperm. “[Sperm] require a precise environment — 4 degrees cooler than body temperature. For this reason, testicles were fitted with a muscle called the cremaster muscle, which contracts to pull the testicles close to the body when they get too cold and relaxes to let them hang lower when it gets warm. If sperm is exposed to elevated temperatures, they begin to die.” During exercise, especially activities like bicycling when wearing tight pants is normal, it’s important that men keep their testicles cool.
The good news here is that, most of the time, these negative effects can be reversed. While it’s smart to talk to your doctor if you think your exercise routine could be impacting your fertility, you can also ease up on the frequency and intensity of your physical activity. Often, doing this can reset your body to where it needs to be for optimal fertility.
What are the best exercises to do while trying to conceive?
As we’ve talked about, moderate-intensity exercises are your best bet when you’re trying to get pregnant. Some examples of great exercises to try include:
- Brisk walking
- Leisurely bike riding (just make sure your man wears loose clothing and doesn’t overheat his testicles)
- Light jogging
- Dancing or Zumba
- Strength training
There are, however, some exercises that are best to avoid. A general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t participate in vigorous activities while trying to conceive, or while pregnant. Some that you should steer clear of are:
- Hot yoga
- Marathon running
- “Boot camp” style workouts
The most important thing to remember is that each individual has different physical activity needs. What may work for your friend or sister may not be what’s best for you. For this reason, it’s key that you listen to your body and have an honest conversation with your doctor.
If you have been exercising and struggling to become pregnant, your doctor may advise that you cut back on anything more than gentle exercises. If your fertility doesn’t improve, you’ll know that it wasn’t exercising that was impacting it. That being said, any changes to your physical activity can cause your hormone levels to fluctuate, so it’s important that you stay aware of what’s happening with your body. If you notice any changes to your menstruation or ovulation, give your doctor a call.
Quick tips to help you get started
Getting ready to be pregnant is such an exciting time, and you’re probably eager to boost your fertility in any way possible. Here are some things to consider, so you can have the healthiest, most fertility-friendly experience:
- Talk to your doctor — ask for their recommendations on exercise, based on your personal health and fertility.
- If you don’t currently exercise, get started as soon as possible — before you get pregnant is the best time to start exercising. Not only will you have a higher chance of conception but being healthy when you get pregnant can help increase your energy and stamina all the way through to when you give birth.
- Start small — making a huge lifestyle change all at once can feel intimidating. Instead, start small by incorporating a little more activity each day.
- Keep it fun — there’s no point in stressing yourself out by doing exercise that you don’t enjoy. Experiment with different types of activities until you find one or two that are fun and sustainable.
- Focus on your core — When you get pregnant, you’ll need good core strength to help avoid strain on your back. You’ll also have more balance, which will be much needed as your belly starts to grow.
- Encourage your partner to get fit, too — It’s important for both parents to be in good physical health while trying to conceive (and it won’t hurt during pregnancy or after birth, either!).