By Dr. Beth A Malizia, MD
Thank goodness! Gone are the days when we discouraged women from carrying groceries or exercising while they were pregnant or trying to conceive.
With all the data we now have available, we know without a doubt that exercise can not only improve overall health but your ability to conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy.
Not only has exercise proven to lower the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure in pregnancy, but it can also decrease your chances of needing a cesarean section.
Can exercise affect your ability to get pregnant?
But now that we know that exercise is not just okay, but encouraged, the question then becomes: how much is too much?
Well, the answer to this question largely depends on three factors: your age, your menstrual cycles, and your daily calorie consumption. When taking these bits of information into consideration, you’ll have a better idea of whether or not your workout routine could possibly be affecting your ability to conceive.
1. It depends on your age. Age and its effects on fertility are well known. Women are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have, and our fertility starts to slowly decline in our mid-20s. This is why different age groups are encouraged to see a fertility specialist at different times.
- Women under the age of 35 with regular menstrual cycles should feel comfortable trying to conceive for up to a year.
- Women ages 35 to 40 are encouraged to seek out a fertility specialist after 6 months of trying.
- Women over 40 can try for 3 months before it’s recommended they seek the help of a fertility specialist.
While it’s normal for it to take more than one try to become pregnant, there’s no time that’s “too early” to see a specialist, even if just to get things checked out once you and your partner decide to start trying.
2. It depends on your menstrual cycles. We know that exercise can affect your body’s ability to cycle regularly. A normal menstrual cycle is 25-32 days from the start of one cycle to the start of the next cycle.
What is interesting though is that running, for example, has no “set point” of miles per week that makes a woman have irregular cycles or stop having periods altogether. For some women, it may be 25 miles, for others, it may be 50, while there are some ultra-marathoners who run even more than that and still cycle regularly.
3. It depends on your calorie consumption. Another important piece of the puzzle is calorie consumption. Many runners who are trying to conceive are told by their doctors to “stop running and gain 5 pounds.” This is a frustrating recommendation for many women who run not just for the physical health benefits but the psychological ones as well – and “stop running” is just not an ideal option.
For women who run, it’s important to consume enough calories to maintain not just your health but also a healthy pregnancy. We know that underweight women (Body Mass Index under 19) have increased infertility and more risks in pregnancy. If you’re at the lower end of the BMI spectrum (even a BMI in the low 20s) you may find that increasing your calories and gaining even just a few pounds can make all the difference in regulating your menstrual cycles. Plus, this can often be done without changing your running mileage or workout routine.
The data on exercise and fertility continues to be reassuring so strap on your running shoes and keep yourself healthy! Ultimately, as long as you’re having regular menstrual cycles and maintaining a healthy BMI, the chances of your workout routine affecting your ability to conceive are not very likely.
Just remember: if you’ve been trying longer than the time recommended for your age group, it’s always a good idea to seek out the advice of a fertility specialist, if even just to make sure everything’s on track.
Learn more about exercise and fertility from Alabama Fertility in Birmingham, AL
At Alabama Fertility Specialists, we treat all patients with the care and compassion that complex reproductive issues require. We encourage you to ask your doctors and nurses at Alabama Fertility Specialists as many questions as you need to in order to find out more.