I’ve been asked if exercise and physical activity are connected to fertility. Exercise, in general, is healthy for you. (Duh, right?) But are there any repercussions for working out too little or too much?
The answer to this question depends on a woman’s current weight and fitness levels. For example, if you are overweight or obese, you are at a higher risk of NOT ovulating each month. Ovulation occurs when the ovary produces an egg. And regular monthly menses is sometimes a good sign that you are ovulating.
If you are overweight or obese, it has been shown that losing as little as 5-10% of your body weight can greatly increase the chances that you will ovulate on a regular monthly basis. So for the subset of women who are overweight, not very active, and who may not be ovulating regularly, exercise could be beneficial from a fertility standpoint — not to mention all its other physical and mental benefits.
On the other side of the coin, women who participate in extreme exercise on a regular basis can also reach a point where they are not ovulating. Classically, you might think of marathon runners, gymnasts, etc. Their bodies are under so much physical stress that there is sometimes a disconnect between the hormones from the brain and the messages being sent to the ovaries, which then prevents ovulation.
If you are an extreme athlete and have regular monthly periods — and are not on birth control — then you are most likely ovulating. But if you are training for your third triathlon and have irregular or absent periods, chances are you may need to decrease the amount of physical activity you participate in if you are interested in conceiving in the near future.
Lastly, what if you are of normal or relatively normal weight, have regular menstrual cycles, and still like to exercise? In this case, it is very unlikely that exercise will adversely affect your chances of conception. A couple of small medical studies have shown that for women who have never had a child before, and who report at least one hour of vigorous exercise daily, there may be a small increase in infertility. But interestingly, in one of these studies, the women with the most intense exercise regimens had the most children in subsequent follow-up surveys. And this subset did, in fact, report slightly decreasing their exercise intensity while trying to conceive.
Therefore, for most women out there, it is unlikely that exercising and staying physically active will negatively affect your chances of conceiving.
Oh yeah, and by the way, when you get pregnant you don’t have to stop exercising. Check out the patient information on our website about exercising while pregnant.