Fertility and Exercise
We all like to believe we’re doing the best we can to stay healthy and we all know the basic principles of how to achieve this; regular exercise and healthy eating! This holds true even more so when you’re trying to fall pregnant. Your family and friends will tell you, your doctor will tell you, and the media will tell you how important it is to exercise and stay fit, but exercise is also of great assistance to conceiving.
One of the most common issues faced by women who have difficulties conceiving is their own health and wellbeing. Most importantly, women need to maintain optimal oestrogen (and progesterone) levels for successful menstruation cycles and ovulation. In short, too much oestrogen is bad and too little oestrogen is worse.
Women who are obese or overweight carry more fat cells in their bodies which has an adverse effect on their hormone levels, in particular an increase in their oestrogen levels and insulin resistance.
Women who are underweight and malnourished equally face adverse effects on their hormone levels, suffering a deficiency in oestrogen levels. An optimal BMI is 20-25.
“One of the most common issues faced by women who have difficulties conceiving is their own health and wellbeing.”
There is a happy middle ground which assists conception. Women who engage in a regime of 40 to 60 mins of moderate intensity exercise three to four times per week will have a positive impact on their menstruation cycle and ovulation by maintaining optimal hormone levels, leading to an increased chance of a successful ovulation, fertilisation and implantation.
Given that a healthy woman’s normal pregnancy rate is ordinarily around 15 to 20 per cent per ovulation cycle, any positive impact you can have is always welcome when you are planning to have a baby.
Following a successful implantation, the happy middle ground also provides the best body for the least chance of miscarriage and sets the body up for pregnancy and delivery, especially the all important pelvic floor.
However, in our bid to do what’s best, we could be doing harm. There is such a thing as too much exercise.
There has been a considerable increase in participation by women in sports since the early 1970s and as a result there has been an increase in medical interest in the potential complications of over-exercise and dietary change on long-term reproductive health and other consequences.
“In our bid to do what’s best, we could be doing harm. There is such a thing as too much exercise.”
One serious disorder for high performance athletes is “the female athlete triad” – dietary low-energy availability, disturbed menstruation and bone mineral density decline (softening of the bones), also known as osteoporosis. Up to five per cent of female athletes experience all three and up to 25 per cent can experience at least one of these. The effect on reproduction is essentially a reduced level of oestrogen.
For any of these scenarios, stopping a period is a warning sign the body is under too much stress to support reproduction. Do not ignore this sign! This could affect your chances of conceiving not only now, but potentially longer term. If you recognise it, and treat it appropriately, you may prevent the progression of symptoms. If it is ignored, you may find yourself suffering infertility.
If you are missing periods see your doctor, your nutritionist and your trainer for proper evaluation. Your level of exercise may be the cause, but other causes should be considered.
After proper assessment, treatments include altering your training regime, adjusting your dietary intake, increasing your calcium intake or undertaking a form of oestrogen therapy such as taking the oral contraceptive pill.
If this is something you are experiencing please seek medical advice, in particular if you’re wanting to start or grow your family.