Exercise

Does Exercise Impact Fertility and Treatment?

Eloise Edington  |  21 Jul 2022


Fertility Help

We all know that regular exercise can help with fertility, but we hear so many different suggestions depending on where you are in your conceiving journey, that it’s hard to know what to believe. To clarify things, Fertility Help Hub have reached out to Lyndsey, who has been a registered fitness instructor for the past 17 years and is the co-founder of myMindBodyBaby, an online community supporting those struggling with fertility. During her own fertility challenges, Lyndsey found exercise was a way to manage stress, as well as being one of the lifestyle factors that can help with fertility.

Read on as she shares the research on exercise and fertility and how you can use fitness to support your TTC journey and mental well-being.

Words by Lyndsey Clabby

Have you been told to stop exercising if you want to get pregnant?

Hi, I’m Lyndsey, Certified Fitness Instructor, MBA, (in)fertility success story x3, and co-founder of myMindBodyBaby – an online support hub with a mission to provide evidenced-based and practical support programs for women who are struggling to conceive. Research has shown that regular, moderate exercise supports your chances of conceiving. So where did this rumour that you should STOP exercising to get pregnant come from?

While the research shows that a certain level of exercise can help with fertility, the key here is balance. The guidelines recommend 150 minutes of regular, moderate exercise a week over at least three days. I want to focus on the word moderate.

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What Does Moderate Exercise Mean?

Moderate means sustaining a level of activity where your heart rate is elevated, you’re slightly out of breath — but you’re still able to speak in short sentences. Getting up and getting moving is always beneficial for your health, but you might not be reaping the full benefits of your workout if you find you’re not quite at the moderate level. 

On the other hand, intense, prolonged and vigorous exercise can negatively impact fertility. Studies have shown that too much exercise can increase your menstrual cycle length (the time between periods) and follicular phase (the time between when your period ends and before you ovulate), while actually shortening the luteal phase (this is the critical phase where implantation occurs). If you find your menstrual cycle is impacted during times in your life of more intense exercise you might want to consider scaling it back a bit while you are TTC.

Sedentary and extreme exercise are not good for those who are trying to conceive. With me so far? While you are TTC, as long as you haven’t been advised otherwise by your healthcare provider, use regular, moderate exercise to support your overall health and chances of conceiving.

But how does this guidance change for exercise during fertility treatments? Let’s dive in!

Exercising During IUI

Unless you’ve been told otherwise by your fertility specialist, during most IUI cycles you can continue with the regular, moderate exercise you enjoy. Like with trying to conceive, the research has shown that women who engage in strenuous, prolonged, vigorous activity over long periods of time often have reduced fecundability. The research on this topic has shown that it is the reduced energy availability resulting from the intense exercise that impacts your menstrual cycle and detracts from “the investment of energy directed towards pregnancy”.  Ensure you are maintaining adequate energy consumption through nutrition, regardless of your exercise level. If you are looking for more guidance, our fertility-focused plans are treatment and diagnosis specific (we have plans for Cycle Monitoring or Prepping for Treatment, IUI, IVF, and PCOS) and provide guidance on fertility-safe exercise and ideal nutrition for every stage of your fertility journey. Click here to find out more.

Exercise During IVF Stimulation

During an IVF cycle you will be taking fertility medication to stimulate the maturation of multiple eggs and your ovaries will be significantly larger in size. They are like big apples on tiny little twigs. High impact exercises, sudden changes in direction, twists and turns put those little twigs (aka your fallopian tubes) at risk of twisting over on themselves (called ovarian torsion) due to the size of the apples (your ovaries). The risk is small (reports estimate less than 0.5%) but it is still there, and if it happens the impact can be serious. 

During Your IVF Retrieval Cycle You Should Avoid

  • High impact exercise, like running, movements with jumping, etc.
  • Sudden changes of direction, like a flip turn at the end of a swimming lap
  • Twists, like in some yoga poses
  • Inversions, again, as are done in some yoga poses or gymnastics
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Your body is going through a lot during IVF. In addition to avoiding exercises that put you at risk for ovarian torsion, give yourself the care and rest you need. Try sticking with gentler, more restorative workouts during your IVF stimulation, like walking, yoga flows (without twists, binds, or inversions), and low impact movements. 

Our comprehensive IVF Fitness and Nutrition Program provides full guidance on exercise, with video-led workouts, for all stages of an IVF cycle.

Exercise During the TWW

As long as you have not been instructed otherwise by your healthcare team, regular, moderate exercise can be continued throughout the two-week wait.

However, if you have anxiety about working out while waiting to take a pregnancy test, try to balance the benefit of the exercise with the mental stress a workout may cause. If your regular 30-minute cardio workout is going to cause you MORE stress because you’re concerned about over-doing it, then you might find it better to take it down a notch during the two-week wait.

Instead of going for a run, try a walk. Instead of your HITT class video, try a yoga session instead.

Some women are worried that they are going to lose the fitness gains they’ve worked hard to achieve. Try not to worry. It took you a while to build up your strength and stamina to get to where you are at — it’s going to take a lot longer than two weeks to undo all the benefits your past exercise has given you.

Exercise is perfectly safe (and very much recommended) during pregnancy, so once you see those two pink lines you may feel more comfortable resuming some of your regular workouts.

So, there you have it! Regular, moderate exercise for fertility is the golden nugget I want you to take away. Exercise is a great form of stress relief, has a ton of physical and mental health benefits, and has been shown through research to increase your chances of pregnancy and live birth! Use modifications at key points in your fertility journey (i.e. IUI or IVF), and always listen to your body. Sometimes a little Netflix + couch can do wonders for you mentally, too!

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Lyndsey Clabby is a Fitness Instructor Specialist & Co-Founder of myMindBodyBaby, an online community to support those struggling with their fertility.

They offer fertility lifestyle programs to optimise your chances of getting pregnant. Visit their shop and use the code FHH15 for 15% off any of their fertility fitness or nutrition plans!

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