Exercise and Fertility

Female Health / Fertility / IVF Treatment

We all know that exercise is good for us and so it seems almost illogical, but women who regularly exercise for four or more hours per week are 40% less likely to have success with IVF than those who do not exercise at all. How can this be? Well if we look to the East we might have the answer. Whilst the western mind-set equates fitness with health, as if they are completely synonymous, Eastern medicine recognises that in the context of strenuous exercise, too much of a good thing can actually be bad for you. Strenuous exercise actually strains the body and although it can make you very fit in terms of sporting performance, when carried out over a sustained period is seen as potentially detrimental to health and fertility. The research suggests that excessive exercise can put stress on a woman’s reproductive system, which makes her body ‘protect’ itself from pregnancy. Mark Hornstein, the lead researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where these studies took place, said that this might be explained by the subtle hormonal changes caused by exercise.

The health benefits of exercise are well established, but the effect of exercise on fertility is far more complex. Infertility and anovulation (no ovulation) are quite common among elite female athletes, as well as amongst those female athletes with low body mass indexes. However, by the same token, there is also comprehensive evidence which suggests that being overweight or obese also has a detrimental effect on fertility and IVF success.

So this is a challenge, should you take exercise or not? How do you get it right? Like many things regarding health and fertility, the Chinese Medical view is that the secret is down to that key word – Balance.

We should look at exercise within an overall context of attaining a healthy lifestyle. If for example you are overweight it is certainly the case that losing those extra pounds is likely to be helpful for fertility. However the key strategy for attaining your optimum weight should be focused more on diet than on performing strenuous exercise.

But let’s be clear, exercising the right way is very beneficial to your health and fertility. It improves your circulation and helps improve blood flow to your reproductive system. Exercise can also improve your endocrine function and help to regulate hormone levels. One key hormone that exercise has an effect on is cortisol – the stress hormone. Exercise reduces the body’s production of cortisol and so reduces stress – one of the main stumbling blocks to fertility.

In general, it is wise to curtail heavy energy-burning exercise when you are trying to get pregnant. It is important to learn to be in tune with your body and moderate exercise is the best choice if you are trying to enhance your fertility. Do not over exert yourself and if you feel really tired after exercising the chances are you have done more exercise than optimal. The best exercise prescription for fertility is a combination of walking and gentle meditative exercise such as the gentler forms of yoga and chi gong. After this type of exercise you should feel peaceful and energised rather than tired.

Chi gong, which means Energy work, is a traditional Chinese healing exercise system whose principles are similar to those of acupuncture and has been used for thousands of years to enhance health and fertility. Tai Chi is one of the most well-known forms of chi gong but there are many different branches. Chi gong is the perfect exercise approach for fertility as it uses gentle movements, focused breathing and meditative techniques. All these deliver all the benefits of stress reduction without taxing your body. A typical chi gong exercise program will contain a series of movements that should take no more than fifteen minutes to perform. Ideally it should be performed in the morning upon wakening and last thing at night before retiring to bed.

You are best to perform chi gong in warm environment where it is quiet and there is little distraction. Make sure it is in a place where you can stand, sit and lie comfortably. For many people this will be their bedroom.

When performed with the correct mental intention, these simple exercises can alter the way you feel physically and mentally profoundly in a very short space of time. I witnessed very sick people in Xi Yuan hospital in Beijing literally move, breathe and meditate themselves back to health with chi gong. These simple exercises, which can be learned very quickly, have the capability to enhance health, improve fertility and reduce stress for anyone who practices them.

The ovaries are exquisitely sensitive. Neither extreme physical fitness nor lack of exercise leading to extra pounds is ideal for attaining pregnancy. Therefore for optimum fertility you should gently exercise for only about 30 minutes a day, focus on your nutrition for attaining your ideal weight and choose a meditative system of exercise like yoga or chi gong.

If you wish you may purchase Chi Gong DVDs from the Healing Code Acupuncture Clinic and also from this website. If you have any questions regarding your health, exercise and your fertility goals do not hesitate to contact me.

Dermot O’Connor
The Healing Code Acupuncture Clinic


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