Since 1 in 4 experience infertility, I thought I would share my personal story. So many of you are in that same desperation I experienced seven years ago. We will get into the research on exercise and fertility shortly, but first my anecdotal research. For more thorough information on prenatal exercise, download our Prenatal and Postnatal Exercise Guide.
We went through four IVFs to conceive our first two children. The first one did not work. The second one ended in miscarriage. The third one ended with a baby! And the fourth one ended with another baby. (Plus all the blood work, meds, and IUIs before that.) Then, as God would have it, we surprised with another lil’ gift from God. Funny how that works.
During that time, the fertility medications got the best of me and I let my exercise routine go, as well as my healthy eating habits. All that did was create more stress! Had I listened to my doctor — which I did by the time we got to IVF #3. He did not recommend altering my regular activity when going through IVF or IUI. Why? Because it creates more stress.
In the stage of trying to get pregnant, reaching an intensity between 12 and 14 on the Borg Scale, 3 – 5 times/week, is sufficient to create the effects of exercise. So keep your current routine. And if you have not been exercising, the sooner you start the better — just make sure you chat with your doctor first.
I decided to chat with my doctor and share his insight with all of you. Here’s what Dr. Peter Alhering, board certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, had to say.
Q: For a pregnancy conceived the ol’ natural way — during the 2 week wait between ovulation and a positive pregnancy test, can a patient exercise just as they were previously?
A: Normal activity for a given individual should not incite pregnancy problems.
Q: For a patient going through IVF or IUI — in the weeks leading up to the embryo transfer or insemination, can they exercise just as they were previously? Even if they were doing intense training?
A: There is no need to alter normal activity. I believe that is what the stress is: a) making people alter their normal lives without good reason and b) imposing unnecessary restrictions.
Q: A patient going through IVF or IUI — while waiting for their positive pregnancy test, can they exercise just as they were previously? Even if they were doing intense training?
A: Patients can assume normal activity.
Q: For a patient that has never exercised before, do you recommend exercise prior to an infertility procedure? What about during the process and after embryo transfer?
A: I always recommend that people exercise … starting the sooner the better. They should adopt a sound and rational program based upon their current level of activity and health issues, if any.
Some of what you read above may seem shocking as there are so many misconceptions like fit women do not have enough body fat or their commitment to working out is a stress. Body fat cannot be the sole indicator for the inability to conceive. And most women who workout say that is much more of a stress reliever than stress creator. The only exception here would be professional athletes, where working out is a big part of their job. We all know no matter how fun your job it will create stress at some point.
In backing up all of Dr. Ahlering’s recommendations we will, as always, rely on research!
I sought out recent research on the subject. Pregnancy exercise studies were previously few and far between. I am thrilled that over the last 5 years I would say the research has quadrupled, at least. Much thanks goes to Dr. James Clapp, III, one of the pioneers in pregnancy exercise research. His research spanned over 30 years — his leadership ignited a fire.
Dr. James Clapp & Catherine Cram’s book “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy” Second Edition is a great resource. Cram is an exercise physiologist specializing in prenatal and postpartum fitness.
They studied 250 pairs of healthy, physically active women planning pregnancy. One woman in the pair exercised while the other did not. Their exercise was defined as continuous exercise for 20 – 60 minutes, 3 – 5 times/week, with intensities required between 51 and 90 percent of maximum oxygen consumption or 14 – 18 on the Borg Scale or between 145 and 180 beats per minute. Their findings in infertility and exercise were pretty much the same between the control and exercise groups. “Thus, although exercise can interfere with normal ovulatory and menstrual function, when we look at fertility prospectively in women without a history of fertility problem, we cannot detect an effect over a wide range of exercise performance.”
Experts agree that moderate exercise will not interfere with fertility. But to make sure you are in the best pre-pregnancy state:
At this point in time, no studies have proven that exercise has a detrimental effect on conceiving, except in the case of elite athletes. According to Exercise and Pregnancy in Recreational and Elite Athletes: Part 1, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, there is concern for the effects of strenuous exercise during implantation. Research shows that around 4 – 5 hours of activity a week is okay, but overtraining consisting of high-impact activity of more than an hour a day can negatively affect fertility. While the research is ongoing, it might be best to limit high impact routines the week after ovulation, as well as repetitive heavy lifting during the first trimester.
During pre-conception and/or early pregnancy, prior to exercise, be sure to discuss any of the following symptoms with your OB-GYN or reproductive endocrinologist:
If you have been cleared for exercise, we invite you try our Pregnancy Programs on the Moms Into Fitness Studio — designed by a mama for mamas.