It’s interesting how much our mentality may shift when we start trying to conceive. Many prior routine practices start feeling sketchy for fertility (like that next cup of coffee, retinol cream, or happy hour). But one that inspires perhaps the most angst is exercise.
But exercise is good, right?
Multiple studies support many benefits of physical activity. It’s been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease, abnormal cholesterol, and anxiety or depression. It may decrease stress, which when chronic may increase inflammation in the body. There is even emerging evidence showing that exercise can increase our brain’s plasticity.
In general, the CDC recommends both aerobic and strength training activities. Ideally, this means a total of 150 minutes weekly (for example, 30 minutes 5 times weekly) of moderate intensity exercise plus 2 days of weights. But if your new work from home setup has significantly decreased your daily steps, not to worry. Starting out with even 5-10 minutes of moving can help!
So, does this change when I’m trying to get pregnant?
Well, it’s a complex answer, depending on multiple factors.
- Women who are overweight or obese (a body mass index of 25 or more) have fertility benefits with any exercise.
- Underweight women (a BMI of less than 18.5) need to take care with exercise, since this low weight may already impact fertility and menstrual cycles.
- The data are not quite as clear in normal weight ovulatory women. It does appear that other factors come into play.
Intensity of exercise
- Moderate intensity (defined as brisk walking, leisurely biking, golfing, or gardening, for example) appeared to have benefits in women trying to conceive regardless of weight.
- Vigorous intensity (like aerobic classes) could possibly even contribute to a longer time to pregnancy in one Danish study.
- The data are still controversial, though, with another prospective study in U.S. women suggesting that increased exercise could decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility.
Type of exercise
- The best type is one you enjoy (running is torture to me, but I’ll happily go to jiu jitsu).
- This usually doesn’t impact exercise recommendations, but in vitro fertilization cycles may cause the ovaries to become really enlarged. This may increase certain uncommon risks, like the ovary twisting on its tethering or a fluid imbalance in the body.
- There may be added benefits with certain conditions (like PCOS) or increased restrictions with others (heartbeat irregularities, for example). Always check with your doctor if you’re concerned.
Ultimately for most people, the pros of exercising, especially moderately, outweigh the cons. And if there’s any way to do it in nature, you’ll be synergizing those benefits, too. So, run (or in my case, chokehold?) to the nearest open area to reap the rewards of physical activity.
I am a USC-trained Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility physician with a boutique practice in Orange County, CA. I am also a Fellow in Integrative Medicine at the Andrew Weil Center at the University of Arizona, a FEMM Fellow at the Reproductive Health Research Institute, and serve as Associate Clinical Faculty at UC Irvine. My goal is to radically reimagine my field by focusing on whole body methods to identify the root cause and heal reproductive issues, like fertility, miscarriage, and abnormal cycles. I do this through integrative medicine practices coupled with traditional REI techniques, all while avoiding aggressive procedures. I’m grateful to have been selected for multiple years running as a Southern California Super Doctor and Rising Star, Orange County Physician of Excellence, and Top Doc in Pasadena. I am a Healthcare Task Force member for Life Perspectives, a leader in education, research, expertise and support after reproductive loss; serve on the Advisory Board for Pre-Health Shadowing, a non-profit that makes discovery of different medical specialties accessible to students; and have been an invited guest at multiple conferences and podcasts as well as an author of book chapters and multiple articles. I am excited to use an integrative medicine lens to educate about women’s issues!