There are many factors that can affect a woman’s fertility. Some of them you have probably already thought about: age, overall health, etc. There are lifestyle choices that can affect your fertility. Can your exercise habits influence your fertility?
According to numerous studies, the answer is yes. According to one fertility resource, “exercise is actually a key factor in many cases of infertility.” (1) That’s right. Exercising can actually be the cause of infertility! You may think that exercising is helping your chances of conception because you are becoming healthier. In moderate amounts, that is true. However, over-exercise can significantly reduce your fertility levels.
If you are exercising, you are burning body fat. Body fat is actually important to female fertility because it contributes to estrogen production (fertility hormone). If you burn too much fat, you produce less estrogen. So if your body fat levels aren’t high enough, you could be reducing your chances of becoming pregnant.
Also, over-exercise can cause “irregular ovulation” and amenorrhea. This means that women who exercise strenuously may stop having periods entirely, and even if you have a period, you may not actually be ovulating. Ovulation is releasing an egg, so if you don’t ovulate, it’s impossible to get pregnant. This may be because the chemicals released during exercise increase prolactin levels. Prolactin negatively affects fertility and can “interrupt ovulation.” (2)
You may be surprised by how strong this connection actually is. According to a study of over 2,000 women who went through IVF, women who worked out at least four hours a week were “40% less likely to have a live birth”. (3) That means women who went to the gym every day were almost half as likely to have a baby after fertility treatment as women who did not work out or only occasionally worked out. They were also more likely to suffer other complications. Even without an amount of time specified, the study found that women who did cardio exercise (high impact exercise like aerobics or tae-bo) were 30% less likely to give live birth following IVF.
The good news is that exercise doesn’t seem to have a lasting effect on your fertility. If you are trying to conceive, and you normally exercise a lot, simply cutting down the amount of time that you spend exercising, and/or switching to lower stress exercise (yoga, for example), can help to improve your fertility. (4)
If you have found it difficult to conceive, it may be worth considering your exercise habits. Yes, too much exercise can decrease your fertility levels. However, if you limit the amount of time you spend in cardiovascular exercise and focus on overall health and wellness instead, you can raise your fertility again.
(1) “Exercise and Fertility”, Shared Journey: Your Path To Fertility
(2) “Exercise and Fertility-What is the Connection?”, Women’s Health
(3) “Fertility and Exercise: Why You Should Work-Out, But Not Too Much”, by Rachel Gurevich, About.com: Fertility
(4) “Hard Training May Reduce Fertility in Women”, Science Daily