Exercise and Infertility

Posted on January 12, 2006 by Inception Fertility

Exercise and diet improvements are excellent enhancements to fertility therapy. There is evidence of a reduced risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and pre-eclampsia in women who exercise in pregnancy. Some reports have identified a greater sense of well-being, shorter labor and fewer obstetric interventions in physically well-conditioned women. The standard recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that a minimum 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise per day, every day of the week, is ideal for pregnant women. The American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) endorse this 30 minutes per day recommendation. In addition to physical benefits, gentle to moderate exercise is a healthy way to control the stress related to dealing with infertility diagnosis and treatment, but not all exercise is beneficial. Level of Exercise Everyone has a different level of exercise at which point it interferes with fertility. There is risk that the biological stress associated with exercise may induce ovulation problems and can, at times, increase the risks associated with fertility treatment. Maintaining or initiating a well balanced diet is important. This includes diverse nutrients (complex carbohydrates, balanced protein, low fat), a vitamin supplement and adequate hydration, especially during periods of exercise. Weight should be monitored: if weight loss occurs, intake should be increased; if weight gain occurs, intake should be evaluated and revised accordingly. Rapid weight gain or loss is not recommended. Extreme exercise may affect fertility in both men and women. Serious athletes may have to add more calories to ward off fertility problems. Individual evaluation by a physician is recommended for those who are in a rigorous exercise program and concerned about their fertility. If a woman has an established exercise program prior to treatment, that level of activity may be maintained and continued with some minor modifications and reasonable precautions. If a woman has not begun an exercise program prior to treatment, a gentle start is advised such as walking or swimming 15 to 30 minutes, three days a week. A slow and steady increase in duration and frequency can be accomplished over a period of several weeks. A good guideline to follow is if it is difficult to carry on a conversation, slow down. For those starting a new program and can afford the luxury of a professional trainer, working with one who has expertise in exercise during pregnancy is a great way to begin. Heavy exercise spurts followed by long periods of no activity is not recommended. Gentle to moderate, regular exercise is best. Modifications to Exercise During Infertility Care Generally, it is safe to assume that if an activity is uncomfortable, don't do it, especially when considering discomfort in the region of the ovaries. Near the end of an IVF cycle and for a month after, avoid jostling tender ovaries and activities where even slight injury to the abdomen may occur. Ovaries are enlarged and may be uncomfortable when being jostled. Aside from causing discomfort, there is an increased risk of ovarian torsion, particularly after 5-7 days of gonadotropins. Bouncing exercises to avoid include vigorous step aerobics and running. Less traumatic, low impact exercises, such as walking, yoga, Pilates, swimming, are preferred. A general rule of thumb is to aim for a target heart rate of 120-130 from stimulation day 8 to one week post transfer. Contact sports or other activities that may increase the chance of bumping or hitting the abdomen or increase the risk of a fall such as horseback riding, vigorous racquet sports and downhill skiing should be avoided. Avoid overheating especially during exercise; this includes hot tubs, hot yoga and exercising during very hot days. Avoid conditions that limit oxygen availability especially during aerobic exercise; hiking up to a 6000 feet altitude is an acceptable limit. Scuba diving is absolutely not recommended. These are general guidelines, however, everyone's level of comfort and physical condition is unique. It is always recommended patients discuss their exercise regimen with their physician. -- Philip Chenette, MD

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