While being physically active has a whole host of health benefits, when it comes to fertility, and especially fertility treatment, exercise is often feared and sadly avoided. However, there is research to indicate that regular and moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial for fertility, although it’s also important to note that overly frequent high-intensity workouts are associated with impaired fertility.
So what does that mean for you? How can you ensure that how you choose to exercise is helping your fertility journey rather than hindering it? The key is striking the right balance between the types of exercises you are doing, the intensity, and the duration. So, here are my top five tips of what to bear in mind when exercising when you’re TTC and how you can use movement as a way of supporting your fertility.
1) Check your nasal breathing:
Nasal breathing is a fantastic way of gauging the intensity at which you are working out – you should be able to maintain breathing through the nose throughout your exercise session. If you’re working out and find that you are unable to sustain this, and are instead breathing heavily through your mouth, take this as a signal to dial back the intensity and allow your body to return to a state where you can comfortably breathe through your nose. Remember: exercise doesn’t have to be (and in this case shouldn’t be) exhausting to still be beneficial.
2) Increase blood flow to your pelvic organs:
When you’re TTC, it’s important to get as much blood flowing into your pelvic and reproductive organs as possible, not only to keep them in peak working order, but promoting blood flow in this region will also help to stimulate your endocrine (hormonal) system. Blood goes to where it’s needed, so if the goal is to increase blood flow to the hips, pelvis and reproductive organs, then gentle body-weight moves such as glute bridges, side lunges and squats are your best friends. What we don’t want to do is direct blood away from the target area for prolonged periods of time, so spin classes and other high-intensity activities that pool blood into the working muscles should be approached with more caution. If your journey has taken to IVF, during stimulation when the ovaries are enlarging, it is particularly important to avoid impact exercises such a jumping and any increased bracing in this area, such as isolated core work, as this can sometimes lead to exercise-induced ovarian torsion (when the ovaries twist around the tissues and ligaments that support them).
3) Boost your hip mobility:
While we want to get the blood flowing down to your pelvis, tight tissues and joints don’t accept blood flow well, so choose exercises that create space around the entire hip joint, which will allow fresh, oxygenated blood to flow into the area. We’re not shy in mentioning that when progesterone levels elevate (during the luteal phase of a natural cycle), there is a relaxation of the GI tract, and constipation commonly ensues. Gentle twists and rotations of the trunk and pelvis paired with relaxed, full breaths give a little encouragement to the area! If you need a few ideas for good hip openers, here is a 2-minute hip mobility sequence that you can do a few times a week.
4) Encourage lymphatic drainage:
The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system, helping to circulate bodily fluids as well as drain waste and toxins from the body. Movement, breathwork, and massage all stimulate the lymphatic system, so when the body is under increased lymphatic load through elevated hormones, it’s important to support the bodies detoxification and immune system using these three things. Without proper drainage, the body cannot process toxins and filter excess hormones via the liver, which in turn can impair fertility. That’s why at the beginning of my ‘Exercise for TCC & IVF prep’ movement classes, we always start with some simple, but specific sequences to ensure good lymphatic health. You can see below for a link to my online class, as well as a code for a complementary session.
5) Find the duration sweet spot:
Cortisol is an alertness hormone that the body naturally produces in response to stress (for example, a perceived threat like a near miss in your car). But because working out places the body’s systems under stress, cortisol is also released when we exercise. Although cortisol is useful as it helps us to regulate our metabolism and decreases inflammation, too much cortisol can actually cause inflammation, dampen the immune system, inhibit sleep and lead to emotional problems, all of which can negatively impact fertility. To avoid unnecessarily increasing the amount of cortisol in your body, it’s important not to over-exercise, so restrict your exercise sessions to 30–45 minutes, 3–4 times a week only, and keep your eye on your ability to breathe nasally to monitor your intensity as mentioned in tip 1.
Although the physical effects of increasing blood flow, detoxification, and mobility are all wonderful, more so is the impact that even just light exercise has on our mood. Exercising during stressful and uncertain times helps to regulate the nervous system and prevents mental and emotional stress from manifesting in our physical body. Taking time out a few times a week to input some positivity can have a dramatic impact on your overall health, and therefore your fertility.
I’d love to invite you all to my weekly online class! Every Friday at 7:15 am, I run a 45-minute class for anyone TTC. There’s no equipment required, just you, so why not click here to find out a little more about the class and sign up.
With love, Kate x
Rao, M, Zeng, Z & Tang, L, ‘Maternal physical activity before IVF/ICSI cycles improves clinical pregnancy rate and live birth rate: a systematic review and meta-analysis.’ Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, volume 16, article 11, (February 2018).
Gudmundsdottir, S L, Flanders, W D, & Augestad L B, ‘Physical activity and fertility in women: the North-Trøndelag Health Study,’ Human Reproduction, Volume 24:12, (December 2009), pages 3196–3204.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Taylor (BSc Hons) is a sports therapist and personal trainer. Kate’s programming takes into account the positive effect exercise can have on the female reproductive system and works sympathetically with the menstrual cycle and cyclical changes in hormones to help manage conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis, as well as unexplained infertility. Kate specialises in helping couples to achieve their optimum health and fitness while on their TTC journey.