Is Working Out Good For My Fertility?
Reviewed by Dr. Lisa Czanko MD, MPH
It wasn’t too long ago that women were discouraged from regular exercise for fear that they might hurt themselves, “bulk up,” or (gasp) be seen in public sweating. These days, we know better. After all, there are tons of benefits to regular exercise, like a reduced risk of heart disease, improved mental health, improved sleep, and longevity.
But what about people who are planning to get pregnant in the near future?
On one hand, giving birth is a major physical exertion that requires strength and endurance. With that perspective, improving your fitness can set you up for an easier birth. On the other hand, many women are wary of putting too much strain on their bodies or risking injuries with intense workouts, especially when trying to conceive. There’s also the question of how exercise impacts ovulation, which has a direct impact on your fertility.
We’re here to look at the research and give you an expert’s perspective on the relationship between exercise and fertility. Here’s what to know about how working out can impact fertility.
Is it safe to exercise if trying to get pregnant?
Short answer: Most likely, yes. In general, exercise is recommended for people before and while they’re trying to conceive.
For example, one study found that moderate physical activity resulted in an increase in fertility across women of all weights. Another long-term study of over 17,000 women found that those who followed five or more low-risk lifestyle behaviors (including moderate exercise and eating balanced meals) had a 69 percent lower risk of infertility from disorders that affect ovulation.
Longer answer: Yes, but with caveats.
For example, it’s not recommended to go from a mostly sedentary lifestyle to exercising for hours each day – this applies to anyone, not just someone planning on getting pregnant. Also, for people with a pre-existing medical condition or an injury, certain workouts may not be recommended. Always talk to your doctor before starting any new workout program.
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One group that may especially benefit from exercise? People dealing with ovulation disorders, like endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.
These conditions impact ovulation, often leading to irregular or missed periods, which can affect fertility. Research suggests that regular exercise can improve ovulation in women with PCOS. So, building a consistent exercise routine may help regulate ovulation and improve the chances of conceiving.
Many people are under the assumption that high-intensity exercise is detrimental to fertility or can even cause miscarriage.
The truth is, there’s a lot more nuance to the relationship between intense exercise and fertility. For instance, one systematic review found that women who engaged in vigorous physical activity for more than 60 minutes a day may be at higher risk for ovulatory dysfunction, while on the other hand, women who exercised between 30-60 minutes a day had a lower risk for anovulation (which is when an egg does not get released from the ovary during the menstrual cycle).
Besides putting people at risk of problems with ovulation, intense exercise has also been linked to amenorrhea (not having a period), which can also negatively affect fertility. People experiencing irregular or missed periods, should talk to their doctor about their individual situation.
What type of exercise is best for improving fertility?
In general, for people that are already a regular at the gym with a trusty routine that they love, it’s probably okay to continue it.
For someone just starting a fitness routine, in general it’s a good idea to start slow and gradually increase the level of activity over time. For many people, a good goal is to aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 3-5 times a week.
The most important thing when starting a fitness routine is that you find activities that you actually enjoy.
That way, you’ll find it easier to make them a consistent part of your lifestyle - both when you’re trying to conceive and afterwards.
So go ahead, try that cardio dance class you’ve always wondered about or make plans with a friend to go to a neighborhood yoga studio. And one more time for good measure: always talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
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U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, September 30). Benefits of exercise. MedlinePlus. Retrieved January 12, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/benefitsofexercise.html
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Chavarro, Jorge E. MD, ScD1,2; Rich-Edwards, Janet W. MPH, ScD2,3,4; Rosner, Bernard A. PhD2,5; Willett, Walter C. MD, DrPH1,2,4 Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility, Obstetrics & Gynecology: November 2007 - Volume 110 - Issue 5 - p 1050-1058 doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000287293.25465.e1
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Cho, G. J., Han, S. W., Shin, J. H., & Kim, T. (2017). Effects of intensive training on menstrual function and certain serum hormones and peptides related to the female reproductive system. Medicine, 96(21), e6876. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000006876