It can be confusing for patient’s to navigate recommendations around exercise and fertility. Many of our patients ask if they should exercise while trying to get pregnant. They may have heard conflicting advice from friends, family, or the internet. These often well-meaning tips may not have data to back them up. They can, unfortunately, leave a patient stressed and concerned at an already emotional time. In this article, we will go over general recommendations and data on exercise and fertility, along with some suggestions for how to incorporate healthy and fulfilling movement while trying to conceive.
Overall Guidelines for Exercise and Fertility
Studies consistently show that regular exercise reduces the risks of chronic illnesses (such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast cancers), improves mood, and can decrease anxiety and stress. When it comes to fertility, the data can seem mixed at first. Research has shown lower fertility rates in women with a sedentary lifestyle, regardless of weight. However, studies have also shown decreases in menstrual regularity, ovulation, and fertility in athletes who exercise vigorously and often. So, is exercise good or bad for fertility?
As with many things related to fertility and well-being, the answer lies in moderation. Behaviors at either extreme of a spectrum – in this case, not exercising at all or exercising often and at high intensity – can negatively affect ovulation and reproductive systems. This makes it more difficult to conceive. Exercising in moderation, however, can provide benefits for patients trying to conceive and improve their chances of becoming pregnant. Let’s take a closer look at some of these studies.
Scientific Studies on Conception and Exercise
A 2019 meta-analysis reviewed research from many different studies to determine if exercise is good or bad for fertility. The paper concludes that regular exercise positively affects the chances of becoming pregnant. In fact, some data suggest that pregnancy rates can be as much as twice as high in patients who consistently exercise versus patients who do not exercise at all while trying to become pregnant. Importantly, moderate exercise did not seem to harm pregnancy success rates or success with fertility treatments. In general, the authors concluded that exercise supports fertility. Patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistance, and obesity experience the most benefits from regular exercise.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Obesity, Fertility, and Exercise
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) refers to a broad group of signs and symptoms that include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Excessive hair growth or loss
- Difficulty losing weight
- Insulin resistance
Extensive studies show that a consistent routine of moderate exercise can quickly reduce symptoms of PCOS and improve fertility outcomes. Some evidence shows that regular physical activity can help regulate menstrual cycles and balance hormone levels. This makes it easer to ovulate and become pregnant.
Similarly, obesity is correlated to various health issues that can negatively impact fertility. These include irregular menstrual cycles and increased risk of miscarriage. Regular exercise and dietary adjustments can lead to improved cycle regularity, ovulation, and live birth rates. Importantly, for both PCOS and obesity, the benefits of exercise do not necessarily depend on weight loss. In fact, the act of moving your body regularly in a healthy way can have immediate benefits, including improved insulin processing, hormonal balance, and mood regulation. For this reason, we do not focus on weight or the number on the scale when approaching a patient’s treatment plan. Instead, our goal is to find ways for patients to incorporate physical movement into their lives on a regular and achievable basis.
How Should I Exercise to Boost Fertility?
While trying to conceive, we suggest working regular movement into your daily routine in a way that works for you. Typically, our providers start by asking patients what type of exercise they currently do, or what kind of movement brings them joy. Then, we discuss ways to maintain or adjust those routines to reach a moderate level of regular exercise. This can looks different for each patient. For instance, if you do not currently exercise but love dancing to your favorite tunes, you could sign up for a dance class or find dance exercise videos on YouTube. On the other hand, if you are an avid and intense runner, we can discuss ways of varying your daily regiment to encourage regular ovulation.
Exercise can bring joy and relieve stress, in addition to the other physical benefits. Our goal is to allow you to continue finding beneficial ways to move your body throughout trying to conceive, fertility treatments, and pregnancy. As always, ask your fertility specialist for their recommendations and input on exercise and fertility. We are here to help you incorporate fertility-supportive behaviors into your life. To get started, contact us for an initial consultation today.