Part of our duties as health professionals is to advocate for a healthy lifestyle and for exercise in general. Today we spoke to Dr. Alejandra García-Villalba, gynaecologist and fertility specialist at IVF-Life Alicante, about the impact of physical exercise on fertility.
As health professionals, reproductive health education should be a priority for us. Many women don’t even understand their own menstrual cycle, let alone the importance of their ovarian reserve.
How exercise benefits fertility
Today, many women of childbearing age engage in some form of exercise.
In most cases exercise is highly beneficial, as it provides the vital elements to promote the proper functioning of our bodies and increases our personal well-being, which, indirectly, promotes reproductive activity.
Does exercise improve fertility?
“Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits has a significant influence on our fertility. Exercise has many health benefits, a healthy diet and moderate physical activity have a positive influence on a couple’s fertility, both directly and indirectly,”
explains Dr. Alejandra García-Villalba.
- Improves blood circulation: physical exercise improves blood circulation and oxygenation of the body on a cellular level, and also increases the formation of complex cellular hormone receptors.
- Reduce stress: exercise in moderation is a great stress reliever. Stress has been shown to negatively affect fertility and can trigger hormonal reactions that impair fertility.
- Improves hormonal balance: regular exercise tones muscles, helps regulate menstruation and reduces premenstrual symptoms.
- Increases endorphins: recent studies have shown that the level of endocrines in the blood increases considerably immediately after physical exercise. Endorphins, known as happy hormones, are natural painkillers that counteract depression and anxiety.
“This does not mean that people who exercise are more fertile than those who don’t. However, it does mean that daily moderate exercise improves our physical characteristics that favour fertility.”
It should not be forgotten that the most important factor that affects our fertility is age and the condition of the female or male reproductive system.
“For example, an 18-year-old girl who only exercises once every two weeks is likely to be more fertile than a 40-year-old woman who exercises three times a week. The reason for this is primarily due to age, which determines the ovarian reserve and oocyte quality“.
Can healthy habits improve fertility?
When it comes to pregnancy, our lifestyle matters. There are many unhealthy habits that make conceiving difficult. Stress, smoking, long hours of sitting or a poor diet can all be harmful to fertility and indeed have a negative impact on your reproductive health.
A healthy and balanced diet can not only help you get pregnant, but is also good for your overall health.
This means eating foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins, as well as foods containing folic acid, fruits and vegetables, and other specific foods such as spinach. Fatty fish should also be included in your diet. On the other hand, we should avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soft drinks.
Fertility and heavy exercise
There are several studies on the relationship between sport and fertility that link intense exercise to reduced fertility, both for men and women.
Exercise in itself does not enhance fertility, and heavy exercise may even be counterproductive.
“When we talk about high-performance athletes, we have to remember that we are talking about people who train intensively. Thereby, they may also experience periods of stress due to physical and mental demands. All this can lead to them experiencing menstrual cycle dysfunction“.
Women and exercise
In the case of high-performance female athletes, the following issues may occur:
- Luteal insufficiency. Many female athletes retain their menstrual cycle and their ability to ovulate, but in the second phase of the menstrual cycle, progesterone production decreases.
This is important because a lack of progesterone, which is the hormone responsible for the successful implantation of the embryo, can negatively affect fertility. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find women in sports with implantation failures or early miscarriages.
- Absence of ovulation. (Amenorrhoea) In the most severe cases, female athletes may lose their menstrual cycles and be unable to become pregnant.
Men and exercise
Excessive exercise can affect sperm quality and quantity in men, negatively impact fertility.
According to a study by the University of Córdoba, there is a negative correlation between excessive physical activity and men’s reproductive health. According to the study, the quality of the sperm is significantly affected.
This reduced quality manifests itself in lower sperm velocity, morphology and DNA defects in the semen. DNA fragmentation is more severe in high-performance athletes who train at a more constant and intense pace.
In such cases, techniques like the advanced semen analysis can be used to carry out a sperm DNA fragmentation test to detect DNA defects.
“Social and economic factors prevent women of childbearing age from delaying motherhood. This is also the case for elite athletes, who, if they decide to become mothers, will have to temporarily halt their careers and then start all over again. This requires a lot of effort and sacrifice“.
As professional performance becomes more and more competitive, all of these factors lead many women to have to decide between continuing their athletic careers and becoming mothers.
Today, treatments such as fertility preservation help these women to be able to freeze their eggs at the peak of their careers, in order to become mothers in the future.
Once I start my fertility treatment, can I still exercise?
During a fertility treatment, many questions arise. For example, whether exercise is appropriate and recommended.
In general, light exercise such as walking, yoga or swimming is recommended. This type of exercise can be performed during the entire period of ovarian stimulation.
On the other hand, it is recommended to avoid high-intensity exercise and strenuous physical activity, due to the risk of follicular rupture, ovarian torsion and/or abdominal pain.
Therefore, contact sports such as aerobics, cricket, spinning, horseback riding, trampoline and competitive sports are not recommended during the final phase of stimulation, prior to egg retrieval.
Knowledge is power
“Raising awareness about issues such as infertility, breaking taboos and providing information about concepts such as ovarian reserve and reproductive health is part of our job as medical professionals,”
concludes Dr Alejandra García-Villalba.
At IVF Life Alicante, we are aware of the amount of information we are exposed to on the internet. Therefore, it is important to emphasise that you should consult a specialist before making a decision in order to resolve any doubts you may have. At IVF-Life Alicante, we believe in personalised treatment, adapted to each situation and personal circumstances.
If you are a competitive athlete, do not hesitate to contact our specialists. Get a detailed medical examination concerning your fertility and learn about the most suitable treatment for you.
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