Many runners looking to start a family will wonder how their hobby could be affecting their chances of falling pregnant, and whether they should alter their exercise regime while trying to conceive.
Independent fertility nurse consultant Kate Davies says that keeping active is beneficial for women’s mental and physical health, as well as keeping them at an optimum weight for conception.
“When you’re trying to get pregnant, especially if it’s taking a bit longer than you hoped, running or exercise is a fantastic way of getting your head out of everything that’s going on and not only focusing on trying to get pregnant,” says Kate.
“You’ve got all those endorphins and that wonderful mental health benefit that we know is so fantastic with exercise. Ladies who are going through a long fertility journey can really rely on their exercise and in many ways it becomes something they can control when they’re not able to control their fertility journey.”
Finding the right balance
Kate says that while maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for good fertility, and exercise is a powerful tool in achieving this, over-exercising can be problematic.
“What I really discourage is women, and men, suddenly deciding that they want to train for a marathon or do an Ironman, or something like that, because that completely depletes the body of all the nutrients that it needs to be able to support good egg and good sperm development,” she says. “Running or exercising to that level also increases stress on your body and raises your cortisol levels, and that’s not good for trying to conceive either.”
She adds that those going through IVF treatment should be a little more cautious. While they should continue to keep active, they may want to moderate their exercise leading up to and during the time of an IVF cycle, and they should avoid doing excessive exercise, particularly post-embryo transfer.
The bigger picture
Consistency is key when it comes to exercising to optimise fertility, and your running routine should stay the same throughout your cycle.
“It takes three months for an egg to mature, so whilst you might think, ‘Ok, I’ve not conceived, I’ve got my period so it’s ok for me to exercise [however I want]’, what you don’t want to be doing is exercising excessively so you’re damaging any good egg production or your general health,’ says Kate.
Signs you could be overdoing it include feelings of exhaustion of blood tests showing depletion. She advises listening to your body and moderating your exercise if you feel you are pushing yourself too hard.
Men should also take care not to over-train and keep cycling to a minimum.
“For men, getting on a bike in Lycra and going for a long-distance ride [can damage fertility],” says Kate. “Testes are outside the body so they stay at least two degrees lower than the body temperature to help with good sperm production. All the time they’re cycling their testes are too close to their body, they’re overheating and in addition, the little saddle puts pressure on the vital veins that help with good sperm production.”
Food and drink
Caffeine should be kept to a minimum while trying to conceive, ideally you should have no more than one caffeinated drink a day, and avoid energy gels, bars or sweets that may contain caffeine.
Kate advises keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum throughout your cycle, and men should drink in moderation too.
“If men binge drink then that can knock their sperm off for three months, because they regenerate their sperm every three months,” she says. “This whole idea of men and women thinking, ‘We’ve not conceived, that’s fine we’ll go out this weekend and have a good drink’, it’s actually counter-intuitive.”
Kate says it was vital to avoid smoking, as it damages ovaries and sperm production, and to steer clear of recreational drugs. She also strongly urges men to stop drinking protein shakes.
“There is some concern in a correlation with protein shakes and poor sperm parameters’” she says. “I don’t recommend protein shake use at all. It something we are concerned about, and men, certainly young don’t know about this.”
A healthy weight
Achieving a healthy weight is often a priority for women who are trying to conceive. For weight loss for fertility, it’s recommended women complete around 150 minutes of exercise a week.
Kate suggests a mixture of exercise, including cardio, walking and muscle-strengthening. Muscle strengthening is particularly beneficial for women who suffer with insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Yoga and pilates are recommended for promoting fertility, and there are even specialists who teach fertility yoga. These practices help with core body strength, which is especially important if you have PCOS. Women going through IVF are encouraged to tell their instructor if they are having fertility treatment or if they might be pregnant.
You can fine out more about Kate Davies at yourfertilityjourney.com
Kate is also co-host of The Fertility Podcast — a really interesting and informative listen and great companion for your next run.