Fertility and pregnancy are inextricably intertwined with exercise. If you don’t exercise enough, or live a sedentary lifestyle, this may affect your chances of conception and enjoying a healthy pregnancy. Conversely, the same can happen if you exercise too much. We checked in with the experts to demystify the subject.
Fertility and pregnancy – what role does exercise play?
When it comes to your fertility fitness, it’s vital to partake in some form of exercise. If not daily, then at least a few times each week. “Exercising when trying to fall pregnant, and when you are pregnant, is vital,” says leading Australian gynaecologist and fertility specialist, Dr Raewyn Teirney, founder of the conceive please fertility tracking app.
“It is essential for overall general health, which includes the health of the reproductive organs,” she explains. “As well as this, regular workouts maintain optimal weight. This is a major factor in fertility fitness – for both men and women. People who are overweight or obese have a reduced chance of falling pregnant naturally, or even with medical intervention. They also have a reduced risk of enjoying a healthy pregnancy, full-term pregnancy and/or live birth rate. Furthermore, exercise helps to lower stress levels and increase the libido, both of which we know are big factors in fertility and pregnancy.”
Just be careful not to over-exercise
Being fit is a great thing. Being too fit can negatively affect fertility and pregnancy. In women, over-exercising can cause a condition called Secondary or Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.
According to Dr Raewyn, “Amenorrhea is a medical condition where women don’t menstruate for three consecutive months or more. It is typically linked with excessive exercising and fasting type diets, or low-calorie intake. This combination wreaks havoc on hormones.
“It can cause disruption in the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) pathway, which leads to Amenorrhea. In this condition, the typical functional secretion of the Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) is disrupted. This ultimately upsets the hormone pathway between the pituitary gland and the ovaries. The result is that the follicles responsible for releasing the egg from the ovaries aren’t stimulated, thereby causing the cessation of the menstrual cycle.
“Many women don’t even realise they have this condition until they try to fall pregnant,” explains Dr Raewyn. “Women tend to come into my clinic for medical intervention when they are trying to conceive but are unsuccessful. This is when we tend to mostly diagnose the condition.”
The solution? Gentle, supportive exercise and a sensible diet. “Thankfully, the condition is reversible within a few months, if a normal healthy diet is resumed, and you swap out hyper-fitness for a sensible routine of gentle, low impact cardio and strength training.”
So… what kinds of exercise is best?
When it comes to fertility and pregnancy, gentle exercise is always recommended.
“Check with your doctor first to rule out any underlying conditions that may prevent you from exercising,” advises Dr Raewyn. “From there, enjoy gentle exercise that improves cardio and strength and supports your body as it changes throughout pregnancy.”
Jumping in the pool is a fabulous option for fertility fitness, as well as exercising throughout pregnancy.
The zero-gravity environment of the pool also provides a low impact workout.
“This reduces the risk of injury,” explains Mark. “It relieves pressure on your joints and allows you to strengthen essential muscles without straining them or wearing yourself out. This translates to a healthier pregnancy as your baby grows. Your muscles will become toned and strengthened to support both your belly and joints.”
Mark suggests beginning with a light workout like Aqua Yoga against the pool wall, or water walking. As your fitness builds, scale up slowly to more challenging (but still gentle) workouts like Dynamic Water Yoga.
Don’t forget to fuel your body and your baby
It’s vital to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that provides your RDI with essential nutrients when trying to become pregnant, and indeed when you do conceive. “Women need to increase their folate intake in particular,” says Dr Raewyn. “Findings from a recent study show that folate can actually boost fertility and speed up your chances of conception. Eating a healthy diet is essential for your fertility journey, as is exercise and weight management.
However, folate is also important to ensure that your baby has healthy neural tube development, to avoid conditions like spina bifida. The minimum daily dose required is 400mcg. You can find it in green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, beans and fortified bread and cereals. We also recommend women begin taking supplements three months before they begin trying for a baby.