What’s the link between fitness and fertility?
Good news exercise enthusiasts - research from Fertility and Sterility has concluded that moderate exercise may help increase your chances of getting pregnant. For those that are a fan of getting their sweat on, this will come as a relief. Others, for whom exercise is not a regular pastime, you might feel a little nervous reading this.
In the Not-An-Exercise-Fan camp?
Many people think they either don’t have time for exercise or just really haven’t enjoyed activities they have tried to date. Know that exercise doesn’t have to look like a structured 30 minutes on a treadmill or those sometimes-way-too-energetic spin classes. Fitting in exercise throughout your day doesn’t need to be arduous – and it can certainly be an activity you enjoy (or at least tolerate!).
Go back to “moderate” – what does that really mean?
We aren’t talking about training for the Olympics. But we are going to require a little sweat. Moderate is defined as being able to speak in short sentences, but not sing. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 150 minutes a week in sessions of at least 10 minutes or more. So a typical week could look like this:
Sunday – rest!
Monday – 30 minute brisk walk
Tuesday – 15 minute bike ride, 15 minutes mowing the lawn
Wednesday – 30 minute yoga video
Thursday – 20 minute light run
Friday – 10 minute pilates session in your living room
Saturday – 12 minute walk with a friend
Almost every day seems impossible!
If you’re not used to scheduling exercise, trying to fit in some movement each day may seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be! The schedule above provides one example of a week of exercise. But there are lots of ways to fit in exercise throughout your week. And any exercise is better than no exercise. Even 10 minutes can do wonders for your energy and mental state.
If you have a dog that is an easy way to get in your minutes. Up the pace from a stroll to a walk and – boom, exercise! Add in an extra loop of your neighborhood and it’s even better. If you normally meet up with a friend for a coffee, suggest a to-go cup and go for a walk together instead.
Trying to encourage the man in your life to lace up? Show him this study in the journal Reproduction. It explains how sperm quality is linked to maintaining a healthy weight, so lacing up with you can help him to eventually earn that Best Dad Ever mug on Father’s Day.
My personal favorite (although I know not everyone’s cup of tea – or, in this case, bottle of water!) is getting in your workout first thing in the morning. Set your alarm clock 20-30 minutes earlier, have you workout gear ready from the night before, and get in a walk or at-home workout (here’s a great one you can try!).
Having a gym at work adds another option. Add a workout or two throughout the week to your calendar. Schedule it like you would a meeting.
Need more evidence to support adding in those extra steps?
Research has concluded that moderate exercise can help improve reproductive function (it can also help reduce labour and delivery time – more motivation!). Alternatively, intense, vigorous activity may delay the time it takes to conceive.
Well, that is confusing.
Let’s take a look at why exercise can help support fertility in order to clarify.
1. Support as healthy body composition:
Some studies look at Body Mass Index (BMI), however this doesn’t take into account body composition (muscle weighs more than fat!). It’s better to look at body composition. When your body fat levels are too low or too high there is a link to impaired ovulation. One way to manage body fat – exercise duration and frequency. If you need to increase your body fat you can look to reducing your duration, intensity or frequency. Try subbing some of your higher intensity workouts with a strengthening yoga or Pilates session. IF you need to reduce body fat, try upping the amount of time you are moving or make the minutes you are exercising a little higher intensity. Moderation is the key – extreme exercise can actually lower progesterone which can have a negative effect on time to conceive. But no exercise is also detrimental. Strive for the middle ground!
Nutrition goes hand in hand with exercise. Ensuring you are consuming nutrient dense, whole foods can help manage body composition. Looking for some healthy snack options? Give these easy recipes a try!
2. Managing Stress:
We know that stress is unavoidable, especially in these very trying times. Everyone has some stress, but high levels of continuous stress have been linked to lower fertility rates. This may sound chicken and egg. You may be stressed about getting pregnant, but you need to cut back on stress to help you conceive. Look at the different areas of your life. Where are you experiencing the most stress? See if any of these suggestions might help you manage stress:
- Work stress: can you speak to your manager about your workload? Can you prioritize your work to-do list further? How much of the stress is self-inflicted – can you take the pressure off of yourself a little bit more?
- Home stress: is there anything you can shift off your place? Order groceries instead of shopping in store? Getting some help with cleaning? Can you declutter to help create a calmer physical space?
- Exercise: exercise is a great way to relieve stress. It helps to boost endorphins, which are your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
3. Benefits Metabolism and Circulation:
Exercise can increase your metabolism and has also been shown to benefit egg health and promote healthy, oxygenated blood flow to the uterus!
4. Reduce Inflammation:
While some inflammation is necessary for normal cellular function, excessive inflammation isn’t desirable. When new cells are being made - there’s some inflammation. Are you on your period? There’s some inflammation. Just had a baby? You guessed it, inflammation!
Excessive inflammation can be problematic. In fact, there are a number of fertility issues associated with chronic inflammation (such as PCOS, endometriosis, and fibroids… to name a few). So, what is the link between exercise and inflammation? ScienceDirect reports researchers have found that even 20 minutes of exercise can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Here’s another workout you can try! Full video available here.
Have we convinced you yet?
If you’re looking for another benefit, here you go. Diabetes Canada reports between 3-20% of women develop gestational diabetes (GD). At around 25 weeks of a pregnancy you will be tested for gestational diabetes. This is normally done by having you drink a (typically orange) sugary drink, and then testing your blood sugar after an hour. Want to reduce the risk of GD? You know what I’m going to say… exercise! Research has shown the risk of GD can be reduced with exercise and maintain fitness levels.
In conclusion, if you’re ready to give this whole sweating thing a try, here’s a super easy 20 minute workout you can do anywhere:
20 Minute Workout
Throw on your favorite pump-me-up mix of tunes and get started!
- 3 Minute Warm Up: this is to get warmed up and start to increase your heart rate. Try dancing around to your favorite song, marching on the spot or doing some jumping jacks.
- Repeat this circuit twice:
- Lunge with Overhead Reach (10 each side)
- 10 Jumping Jacks (or step jacks) with 10 plié squats – 15s rest, then repeat
- 5 Push Ups (toes or on knees) with 5 Plank to T – 15s rest, then repeat
- Sumo Squat with Front Kicks (10 total) – 15s rest, then repeat
- Fast Feet for 30s
- Air Skipping 30s
- Right Side Plank with Hip Dips 30s – repeat on left
- Bicycle Crunches 30s
- Cool Down: Take a few minutes to cool down by marching, light skipping or gently moving around.
- Stretch: 2 minutes
Want more support on how to exercise plus what you can eat to support your fertility? Check out our nutrition and fitness guides – all customized towards the stage of fertility treatment you are in. We have created plans for Cycle Monitoring, IUI and IVF as well as plans for those just starting their journey and those women struggling with PCOS. Get started today with this gift of 15% off your purchase with code enhance15.
Lyndsey, Co-founder of myMindBodyBaby
Lyndsey Clabby (BMSc, MBA and certified fitness instructor) is one of the co-founders of myMindBodyBaby, an online community increasing awareness of and support for women struggling with infertility. An Infertility Warrior herself, she understands the heartache and pain associated with month after month of BFNs. She helped launch myMindBodyBaby to help women take back some of the control infertility can leave you feeling robbed of by providing research-based, doctor-recommended fertility treatment specific support guides. To find out more send her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit myMindBodyBaby.com.