It is well established in the science community that exercise has the ability to do so much, it improves your fitness, strength and stamina, improves your HDL (good cholesterol and lowers your LDL (bad cholesterol), it helps manage diabetes and is it’s best prevention along with nutrition, it lowers blood pressure and decreases stress hormones in the body, it can abolish or improve back, neck and joint pain, and the thing I most want to talk about in this article, it can improve fertility. Surprised? Well I want to talk about some of the research behind my practice and how at The Biomechanics we have developed a program that is tailored for the individual but also designed to improve the likelihood of conceiving through a number of physiological mechanisms.
“How do I improve the likelihood of conceiving?” It’s a big question for many people. Many explore In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) but no matter how you are planning on going about it we do know exercise, diet and lifestyle is one big part of the picture that you can control. Being overweight or obese play a huge role in decreasing the chance of natural and assisted reproduction. Not only is weight management important in improving fertility outcomes but also the intensity, volume and type. Google is inundated with so much information on diet and exercise and if you really look at the proven research it is a matter of pulling a part the weak studies from the strong. This article is designed to present the best of our current research on how exercise and diet can assist you in improving your fertility.
Our best evidence suggests that for those who have been regular exercisers, moderate to vigorous intensity exercise improves natural and assisted reproductive outcomes. Defined as 70-89% of your estimated heart rate max (Find formula below for heart rate prediction). Or alternatively 14-16 of perceived exertion on the Borg 6-20 Scale (Figure 1). If you have not been regularly exercising than moderate intensity exercise has strong evidence to support improved fertility without any negative affects.
Figure 1. 6-20 Rate of Perceived Intensity (RPE) chart
If you are stressed about the scales – don’t be. A study looking at 216 obese women partaking in regular exercise and undergoing IVF found that in comparison to their sedentary counterparts they had improved IVF outcomes independent of weight loss. Exercisers had an IVF success rate of 39% verse 16% and a live birth rate of 24.4% verse 7.4%, respectively. So think about the benefits of just getting moving and keeping that going. You are doing more good than your weight alone might suggest.
Over-exercising can also have its drawbacks. If you are exercising at a vigorous intensity for 4 or more hours a week, it might be worth reducing your load and intensity while you are trying to conceive. Ideally, the Australian Physical activity guidelines suggest a minimum of 150 - 300 minutes/week moderate intensity exercise but exceeding this has been shown to have detrimental affects.
If you have insulin resistance or diagnosed diabetes it is advised that exercise volume reaches 210 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 125 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise, with no more than 48 hours between exercise sessions. This ensures that the metabolic benefits gained by the exercise are maintained and built upon.
Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can experience these same benefits. The aforementioned guidelines also show improvements in fertility through normalization of menstrual cycle length, androgen levels and insulin sensitivity. Exercise has been shown independently and alongside modest weight loss as powerful tools to improve IVF success, natural conception and live birth rates.
Males are also a part of the equation. Once again high-intensity exercise in high volume has been shown to have some negative effects on sperm parameters. Cycling for greater times than 5 hours per week also have negative affects on sperm morphology, and concentration. However, we do know that the larger your waist measurement the greater the chance of male cause infertility. Best practice suggests 150-300 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise through out the week and with a goal of modest weight loss.
For both males and females a healthy lifestyle adhering to these exercise guidelines as well as a well balanced diet have very positive outcomes for your fertility. 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise is healthy and beneficial, the inclusion of some vigorous intensity exercise is fine if you are already conditioned. Strength training two or more times a week should also be incorporated. If you are aware of blood glucose issues, a goal of 210 minutes of moderate intensity exercise should be aimed for per week.
These are best practice goals and remember, if we can’t change our lifestyle than it may be very hard to achieve these numbers. Make small modest goals initially and build upon that. If you are apprehensive than see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. They can guide you through the process and help optimise your fertility outcomes.
*Predicted max heart rate formula = 207-(0.7 x Age)
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