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Exercise and Fertility

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Updated June 11, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

In the old days, if a woman was having fertility problems, doctors would often advise her to stop exercising. The thinking was that avoiding overexertion might help with conception. These days, doctors know that exercise can be an important component in fertility, particularly for women who are obese. While the effect of exercise is different for every woman, a healthy dose may actually increase your chances of getting pregnant.

The Benefits of Exercise

Exercise has a number of health benefits for the average person, but for the woman trying to conceive, exercise may help eliminate, or at least manage, some of the causes of infertility:

Exercisers tend to manage stress better and have less stress than non-exercisers. More about workouts for stress relief.

  • Weight loss - Obesity has been linked to infertility, with numerous studies suggesting obese women are more likely to experience reproductive problems and, if they do get pregnant, experience a higher risk of miscarriage and delivery complications. A regular cardio and strength-training program is a key component of any weight loss program, along with a healthy diet.

  • Better sleep - While sleep problems aren't a direct cause of infertility, lack of sleep is linked to obesity, which can affect fertility. One study in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggested that women who get less than five hours of sleep each night were more likely to gain weight. Exercise can actually help you get a better night's sleep, particularly if you work out in the morning. Researchers believe that exercising in the a.m. can set your circadian rhythms so that you're more awake during the day and sleep more deeply at night.
  • How Much Is Too Much?

    While some studies have shown that exercise can help fertility, other studies show that too much vigorous exercise may lower fertility.

    But here's the rub: There are no specific exercise guidelines for women who are trying to conceive. Of course, we have general exercise guidelines, we have guidelines for people trying to lose weight, for seniors and even during pregnancy. So, where does that leave you if you want to conceive?

    If You Already Exercise

    Of course, you should talk to your doctor if you exercise and are having fertility issues; there are some signs to look for that may tell you if you're doing too much:

    • Missed periods - Exercising too much may cause irregular periods or missed periods altogether. If you've always been irregular, this may not be due to exercise, but if you experience changes in your cycle and you exercise at high intensities, you may want to talk to your doctor about cutting back on your workouts.

    • Exercising more than seven hours a week - Some studies have shown that working out for more than seven hours a week may affect fertility.

    • Signs of overtraining - Overtraining can put extra stress on the body. Even if you still have your period, look for signs of overtraining such as fatigue, soreness that won't go away, insomnia or poor performance.

    If You Want to Start Exercising

    If you're a beginning exerciser, talk to your doctor about a safe level of exercise for your fitness level. If you're not sure where to start, consider hiring a personal trainer for a customized program that allows you to ease into exercise. You can also use these resources to learn more about how to set up your own regimen:

    Sources:

    Clark AM, Thornley B, Tomlinson L, et al. Weight loss in obese infertile women results in improvement in reproductive outcome for all forms of fertility treatment. Hum Reprod. 1998 Jun;13(6):1502-5.

    Dokras A, Baredziak L, Blaine J, et al. Obstetric Outcomes After In Vitro Fertilization in Obese and Morbidly Obese Women. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Jul;108(1):61-9.

    Gurevich, R.Optimal Fertility and Exercise. About Infertility. URL: http://infertility.about.com/od/researchandstudies/a/fertility_exercise.htm Date: Aug 11, 2011.

    Kuchenbecker W, Groen H, Zijlstra T, et al. The Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat and Not the Intraabdominal Fat Compartment Is Associated with Anovulation in Women with Obesity and Infertility. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 May;95(5):2107-12.

    Morris SN, Missmer SA, Cramer DW, et al. Effects of lifetime exercise on the outcome of in vitro fertilization. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Oct;108(4):938-45.

    Patel SR, Malhotra A, White DP, et al. Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. Am J Epidemiol. 2006 Nov 15;164(10):947-54.

    Rich-Edwards JW, Spiegelman D, Garland M, et al. Physical Activity, Body Mass Index, and Ovulatory Disorder Infertility. Epidemiology. 2002 Mar;13(2):184-90.

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