Although there are no direct links between exercise and fertility, there are certainly several interesting possibilities that would give exercise a place in the category of “possible fertility enhancer”
There are three actions of exercise that could possibly positively affect fertility. The three are somewhat intertwined with each other, but do have specific known effects on fertility. Exercise promotes weight loss, helps alleviate PCOS symptoms and insulin resistance, and in moderate levels is a great stress reducer.
This would be the most obvious exercise-fertility connection. Much of America’s obesity rate has to do with our generally sedentary lifestyle. Obesity brought on by a sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits can be a risk factor for infertility.1 Therefore, weight-loss due to a combination of a healthy exercise regimen and improved eating habits could have the effect of lowering a woman’s risk of infertility.
Women who are obese also often have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) which is related to insulin resistance, through it’s effect on the hypothalmus and pituitary gland. Infertility can result.2 Although PCOS cannot be cured, it’s symptoms can be reduced or alleviated, and exercise (and resultant weight loss) is one part of the process. Exercise helps the body use glucose efficiently, and reduces insulin levels.3 Where PCOS or insulin resistance are impairing fertility, reducing these symptoms through exercise can improve a woman’s overall reproductive health, including fertility.
A stressful life can have a roundabout impact on fertility, again because it’s related to hormonal levels. Exercise is great stress relief and allows the release of the “feel-good” hormones that help the body relax and heal. If stress is a factor in an individual instance of infertility, moderate exercise may reduce that factor and promote a healthier fertility status.
It seems clear that a healthy exercise regimen may, in a circuitous way, improve a woman’s fertility or at least decrease her risk of suffering from infertility. It is important to note, however, that compulsive exercise, or two many hours of exercise per week can actually have the opposite effect. Over-enthusiastic exercise can actually induce amennorhea and reduce fertility. 4 A woman may need to weight the long-term value of weight-loss and reduction of PCOS symptoms against an immediate desire to get pregnant. It may be that intensive efforts to lose weight through exercise could increase infertility risks in the short term, but improve overall health and reduce the risk of infertility over the long term, after health has been achieved and levels of exercise can be reduced or moderated.
1Infertility: Risk Factors, Mayo Clinic Staff, mayoclinic.com
2Female Infertility: Causes, Mayo Clinic Staff, mayoclinic.com
3Exercising With Type 2 Diabetes, WebMD.com
4Exercise Associated Amenorrhea, sportsdoctor.com