Can Too Much Exercise Lower Your Fertility?

How Jogging, Yoga, Weight Training, and Walking Affect Fertility

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If you're looking to improve your health and fertility, you may assume that adding exercise to your routine is one of the best actions to take. While that is partially true, it's not the entire story.

It is true that obesity can lead to lower fertility, and to combat obesity, a combination of diet and exercise is generally recommended. Regular exercise can also lower stress, which is important when you're trying to cope with infertility.

But even with exercise, too much of a good thing can be detrimental in certain situations. How much exercise is too much? And how might too much exercise decrease your fertility? Research-based guidelines and medical experts can provide some insight.

Research Background

The research available on exercise and fertility offers some inconsistencies. Some studies have found that too much exercise can impede fertility, while others have not found that association. Certain studies that have also found that regular exercise can improve fertility, especially in women who are overweight or have obesity.

Studies investigating the effect of exercise on fertility have yielded mixed results, in part because researching exercise habits can be complex.

Studying the effects of exercise and fertility is complicated. Since you can’t put people in a lab for years to observe their exercise habits, studies often rely on self-reports from patients. It’s also difficult to pinpoint other factors that may impact fertility. For example, someone who exercises frequently might have different eating habits from someone who doesn’t, and what you eat can also impact fertility.

Exercise Intensity, Duration, and Fertility

Research suggests that moderate exercise is beneficial to all women and may even improve fertility. Vigorous exercise can improve fertility in women who are obese, but may negatively impact fertility in women of normal weight.

So exactly how much is too much? Studies have come to different conclusions based on varying factors like obesity and type of exercise. 

  • Aerobic exercise for seven or more hours per week may increase the risk of ovulation problems.
  • Moderate exercise (for more than one hour but less than five hours per week) was found to improve fertility in all women.
  • Strenuous exercise of four or more hours per week may reduce IVF success rates.
  • Vigorous exercise may improve fertility in women who are obese.
  • Vigorous exercise may decrease fertility in women who are at their normal weight.

Consider Exercise Duration For Optimal Fertility

When considering what exercise to limit or cutback on when trying to conceive, research recommends limiting exercise in the vigorous category to less than four hours per week. You would not need to limit moderate exercises.

When trying to concieve, you may want to consider replacing some of your more intense workouts with gentler forms of exercise.

For example, instead of taking a high intensity interval class every day, you can replace some of your workouts with yoga or leisurely walking. You'll still get to enjoy moving your body, but you won't be overtaxing your system.

Heavy Exercise

In determining what types of activities might be considered strenuous or vigorous, it may be helpful to consider the intensity in which you participate. For example, some activities like bicycling can be considered moderate exercise, but if you bike very hard, very fast, or on a very hilly course it could then be considered very strenuous exercise.

Aerobic exercise (such as an aerobics class at a gym) can be vigorous, but there are many ways to modify movement to make it easier. Weight training can also be moderate or strenuous depending on the amount of weight you lift, the exercises you choose, and the number of repetitions you complete.

Some examples of exercise activities that are more likely to be strenuous include:

  • CrossFit
  • High intensity interval training
  • Powerlifting
  • Racquetball
  • Running

Moderate Exercise

Moderate-intensity exercise is activity that feels sustainable. You should feel like you are breathing more deeply than normal, but you shouldn't feel breathless. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), moderate intensity aerobic exercise occurs when you reach 64%–76% of your age predicted maximal heart rate (which is calculated as 220 minus your age). You can wear a heart rate monitor or fitness tracker to help you determine if you are in a moderate heart rate zone.

Moderate exercise can includes activities like:

  • Walking 1.75 miles in 35 minutes (20 min/mile)
  • Raking leaves for 30 minutes
  • Water aerobics for 30 minutes
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes
  • Bicycling 4 miles in 15 minutes
  • Dancing fast (social) for 30 minutes

What if You Are Overweight or Obese?

While too much exercise can create fertility problems for some women, not getting enough exercise could lead to the possibility of obesity. Which isn't without it's own consequences, as research shows that being overweight can also impair fertility.

Studies looking at obesity, exercise, and fertility comprehensively have found that for women who need to lose weight, vigorous exercise can actually improve their odds of getting pregnant. So, if you are overweight, you probably don’t need to worry that strenuous exercise will harm your fertility.

Always speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized guidance about your weight and the amount or intensity of exercise that is best when you are trying to conceive.

It's also valuable to understand that in addition to exercise, diet is also an important factor to consider when you’re trying to lose weight. Reducing junk food and increasing healthy food options, like whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins, and lots of vegetables, has been found to help with weight loss and improve fertility.

Potential Weight Loss Benefits

Studies suggest that losing just 10% of your current body weight can boost your health and fertility if you are currently obese. Body mass index (BMI) is the measurement used to evaluate someone’s weight based on his or her height, but you don't necessarily have to get down to a specific BMI for your height in order to see fertility improvements.

Here’s an example. Let’s say a woman is 5’ 4” and weighs 174 pounds. This would give her a current BMI of 30 and place her in the category of being obese. To be at her "healthy, normal weight" on the BMI chart, she’d need to weigh 144 pounds. That would mean losing 30 pounds, which is a lot of weight.

However, if she loses just 10% of her weight—about 17 pounds in this example—her fertility would see improvements, despite technically still being considered overweight.

Overall Impact of Exercise on Fertility

Too much exercise seems to impair ovulation in women of normal weight, and there are a few theories on why this happens. For example, one possible result of too much exercise is a luteal phase defect.

The luteal phase is the time period between ovulation and your expected period. This time period, also known as the "two week wait", is normally between 12 and 16 days. A shorter luteal phase can interfere with the ability to get pregnant.

Normally, progesterone levels remain high during this time, which allows a fertilized egg to attach itself to the uterine lining. However, low levels of progesterone can interfere with a fertilized egg implanting, which can lead to infertility.

Another potential reason for exercise-induced infertility is that the hormones responsible for regulating the female reproductive system—GnRH, LH, FSH, and estradiol—are changed in ways that interfere with ovulation.

Yet another potential cause for exercise-induced infertility is a change in leptin levels, which regulates appetite and metabolism. If your appetite is low, you may not eat enough, which can interfere with regular ovulation.

It's also possible that women who exercise more than seven hours per week are more likely to restrict their diet. Not eating enough healthy fats, losing weight rapidly, or weighing below the recommended weight guidelines for your height can affect ovulation.

A Word From Verywell

One to five hours of week of moderate exercise like walking, yoga, or household activities (like gardening or cleaning) can improve fertility in all women. Vigorous exercise can improve fertility in obese women, but it may slightly reduce fertility in women of a healthy weight.

This doesn’t mean you can’t exercise! Only that you should try to limit strenuous activities—like jogging or aerobics—to less than four hours per week if you don’t have weight to lose.

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