Contributing Author: Sarah Jane Sandy
Consistent exercise should be one of the first steps in optimizing fertility and improving uterine health. Walking and yoga are two of the best ways to promote circulation and improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles surrounding the uterus.
Leading an inactive lifestyle with little to no exercise creates a situation of stagnation of blood flow to the uterus and other reproductive organs. The main artery that supplies blood to our legs also supplies blood to our uterus, ovaries, and vagina. If we sit around a lot, especially if we have a desk job, the blood flow to our uterus may be compromised. This is also not a good situation if we have fertility issues pertaining to our uterus, especially if there is scar tissue or adhesions present. Not moving this area of our body enough can actually contribute to scar tissue and the formation of adhesions. A sedentary lifestyle also contributes directly to weak uterus muscles.
The other side of this is too much exercise. Remember that excess intense exercise creates stress on the body. This takes energy away from the reproductive system and can negatively impact fertility.
Here’s the thing — fertility and exercise is not a one-size-fits-all situation. The amount of exercise you need, and how strenuous it should be, is something that will differ from woman to woman.
This is what we do know:
Being Overweight Affects Fertility
We know that being overweight can lend itself to fertility issues. Obesity can affect fertility by causing hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation, particularly for obese women having their first baby. Obesity is associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility. Find out more about PCOS here.
Being Underweight Affects Fertility
On the other hand, being underweight is not ideal either. Being underweight can also reduce a woman’s fertility. It can cause hormone imbalances that affect ovulation and therefore a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. Compared to healthy weight women, underweight women are more than twice as likely to take more than a year to get pregnant. Yikes!
Exercise is an excellent stress reliever
Stress and fertility are directly linked. When you’re stressed, you don’t sleep as well. You tend to crave more sugar to increase low energy levels and choose less healthy options to refuel because your body is craving quick, easy fuel sources (i.e. refined carbs and sweets). Stress can also affect ovulation — acute and chronic stress signals the pituitary gland in the brain that your body is in trouble, which slows the release of LH (Luteinizing hormone), the hormone needed to trigger ovulation. This slow (or absent) release of LH may disrupt ovulation. Even if ovulation occurs, a shortage of LH could mean a shortage of progesterone, which is necessary to nourish and sustain a fertilized egg. In men, stress can disrupt sperm mobility and motility (learn more about The Male Factor here). Research shows that exercise can be a great stress reliever and when done correctly, can be incredibly helpful in restoring hormonal balance and fertility — in both men and women!
Exercise Has So Many Benefits (not only for your fertility)!
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anymore, but exercise is good for you. Humans are meant to move our bodies. Our physical bodies crave functional movement as it’s something we’ve always done. Consistent movement allows for easier weight maintenance, stronger bones, a lower heart rate, better mood stability, an improved complexion, more energy, better sleep, improved self-confidence … I could go on and on, but you get the point right?
Here’s the bottom line:
For women: Making exercise a regular habit before trying to conceive improves uterine health, optimizes your sleep and mood, improves pregnancy health, allows you to have more stamina for labor and delivery, and makes shedding baby weight easier postpartum. Exercise may even improve your fertility if you’re struggling to conceive due to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or are overweight.
For men: Making exercise a regular habit before trying to conceive can help boost the mobility, motility, and overall health of your little swimmers.
So, How Often Should I Exercise?
EVERY. DAMN. DAY. I’m not suggesting that exercise takes up a significant part of your day, but rather, I am suggesting that a minimum of 30-60 minutes a day of movement will go a long way in optimizing fertility and increasing the chances of getting pregnant, and maintaining a healthy, full-term pregnancy.
Thirty to sixty minutes of daily, low impact movement — yoga, power walking, swimming, strength training, hiking, biking, etc. — will get your heart rate up, increase circulation to your reproductive organs, and help you improve overall physical and mental health.
Ask yourself this.
Why do you move? To lose weight? To look better in your swimsuit? Because you think you NEED to for your health? Because all your friends are doing it? How often do you move solely out of pleasure? How often is the intention to experience the movement itself and nothing else?
I’ve found that when my clients focus on the movements they truly love (think of kids playing hide and seek) they move more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Plus, I’ve observed this also results in significant mental benefits. I like to call it “getting out of your own way.”
So the next time you are thinking about how to exercise, ask yourself this very simple question: How would I choose to move my body if it never burned a single calorie or made me look even slightly sexier in a swimsuit? That’s the movement for you!
So I encourage you to do what you love – things that feel invigorating and positive, instead of depleting. This is different for each person. You might find solace in yoga, or get an endorphin high from hitting the trails on your bike. Or, quite simply, you might find peacefulness in a solo hike.
Bottom line: exercise means observing your body and respecting its needs while also doing the things you love. Move your body in ways that feel GOOD. You can have both. Find an activity that you love, and do it often!
One more thing to remember …
Pregnancy is like preparing for a big race, with birth being the marathon. You’re going to need A LOT of energy – during birth and after birth. The healthier you are going into your pregnancy, the more likely you will be able to bounce back a bit quicker and be able to maintain the hectic lifestyle that is new parenthood.
To learn more about how your lifestyle can affect your fertility, check out Sarah Jane Sandy, master nutrition therapist, and her wealth of information on fertility, prenatal & postnatal care.