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Exercise and Fertility – How Much Is Too Much?

Some women have a less-than-healthy relationship with physical exercise. Some may hate it and struggle to fit it in to their day. Chronic under-exercise can make it hard to maintain a healthy body weight or may contribute to sluggishness and depression. On the flip side, there are those of us who train hard every day, use exercise to maintain an “ideal” body weight or feel anxious when exercise is limited. Chronic over-exercise can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as negatively affect the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis (the hormonal system that governs reproductive function). Your relationship with exercise will dictate whether you need to slow down or speed up.

Once you know your “exercise personality,” we can begin to make recommendations. In general, a fertility-friendly exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise that is low-impact and low to medium intensity, which means keeping our heart rate under 60% of max. Exercise modalities like strength-training are also fabulous when you’re trying to conceive. Strength training increases lean muscle mass and helps us keep our bodies strong and shapely (although we need to be careful here – a body fat percentage of at least 22% is generally accepted as necessary for a regular menstrual cycle). In addition to looking good, lean mass means increases metabolism and builds stronger bones. Yoga is another must-try for those who are trying to conceive. The yoga poses increase strength, improve flexibility and help to balance our hormones. Yoga has been proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and specific yoga postures can be used to increase the flow of blood and life energy (prana) to reproductive organs.

So get out and exercise, but exercise wisely. For some of us, this will mean increasing our exercise levels, and for others it will mean slowing down – and some of us will find that what we’re doing is just right. Remember, this is not the time to try and get ripped, drop your body fat percentage to “Hollywood” standards or train for a marathon. A fertility-friendly exercise program will leave you feeling nourished and relaxed.