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The Truth about Fertility and Fitness

Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. It assists in weight loss and maintenance, tones the body, clears the mind and reduces overall stress levels. In an ideal world, we should all be doing a cardiovascular workout, 45 minutes at a time, 3-5 times a week. Balance is key however, as too much exercise can lead to depleted energy levels, injury, obsessive behavior and dramatic weight loss. Recent studies have also indicated a link between excessive exercise and a woman's ability to conceive.

The Scientific Research

Whilst moderate exercise is good for everyone, recent scientific studies have also revealed that too much exercise can inhibit a woman's ability to conceive.

The study set out to analyse the effects of exercise habits on IVF outcomes. It observed two thousand women, some of who worked out regularly (in activities such as cycling, running or swimming), and some who never worked out. It showed that the more active women were no more likely to conceive than the less active subjects. Other findings included that woman who worked out (at a high impact) more than 4 hours a week were:
  • Twice as likely to have a loss in pregnancy or implantation failure
  • Likely to have 40% less of a chance of a live birth after IVF

The Fight or Flight response

Whilst there is still no substantial evidence, scientists have linked a woman's reduced ability to conceive to the fight or flight response, which occurs when the body perceives itself to be in danger. When triggered, stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin are released, giving the body the extra surge in energy required to run from the 'enemy'. These hormones inhibit digestion, speed up the heart rate and also shunt blood flow to many of the muscles. Only when the perceived danger has gone does the body relax and return to normal function.

It is a fact that high-impact, cardiovascular exercise incites a fight or flight response in the body. This response is thought by scientists to potentially be stressing the body out, which in turn inhibits a woman's ability to conceive. It is inappropriately triggered in physically stressful situations, such as a spin class or run, making our bodies run away from dangers that simply don't exist.

Other factors

Excessive exercise in women can also directly be related to unhealthy behaviors that may also affect a woman's ability to conceive. These include:
  • Eating disorders
  • Menstrual Disturbances
  • Bone loss
  • Obsessive thinking and behavior
  • Use of diet pills
Obsessive exercise may also lead to a below normal BMI that may reduce a woman's ability to conceive.

Friendly exercise alternatives

Based on the evidence, if you are looking to conceive, you may want to cut back on the amount of cardiovascular exercise you are doing.

Instead, you may like to consider lower-impact options such as:
  • Pilates
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Hiking
  • Low-impact step aerobics
  • Water aerobics
... and any other exercise that keeps your heart rate under 110 beats per minute.

If you are trying to conceive, it is always good idea to avoid do anything in excess. Try giving up high-impact cardiovascular workouts for a while and enjoy the break.

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