Different amounts of physical activity can influence fertility and pregnancy outcome. Excessive or lack of exercise may result in decreased fertility by negatively impacting ovulation, menstrual cycles as well as egg and sperm quality. Women who exercise before and during the pregnancy have better obstetrical outcomes with lower risk of having complications.
Women who exercise excessively may have ovulation dysfunction, low estrogen levels and possibly bone loss (osteopenia or osteoporosis). Low body mass index (BMI) is associated with oligomenorrhea (irregular ovulation) or amenorrhea (lack of ovulation and periods). Conversely, lack of exercise and being overweight or obese may also impact ovulation and egg quality.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder in reproductive aged women, which is closely associated with obesity and ovulation dysfunction. Obese women with PCOS have higher risk of having miscarriages, but regular exercise with dietary modifications can result in better fertility outcomes. It has been documented that weight loss of as much as 5-10% of total body weight along with exercise is sufficient enough to restore normal ovulation.
Exercise has many benefits that include increasing energy levels, improvement of general mood, self-confidence and posture. Additionally, regular exercise may improve sleep disorders, bloating, constipation and headaches. In the long run, the risks of having cardiovascular disease and diabetes decrease significantly.
Exercise also has a substantial impact on the management of stress, which is common in women trying to conceive. Stress results in the release of cortisol and catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline) that result in constriction of blood vessels, increase in sugar levels, metabolic rate, pulse and blood pressure. Regular physical activity can lessen such deleterious effects by releasing endorphins, improving circulation, blocking the release of excessive cortisol and catecholamines. Overall, blood flow is increased to the uterus and the ovaries, resulting in better egg quality and embryo implantation.
Pregnancy is not a good time to start exercising vigorously if one has never exercised before. Ideally, exercise should be started before the pregnancy and continued in moderation throughout the pregnancy and the postpartum period. While exercising, it is recommended to keep hydrated and avoid overheating in the first trimester.
It’s important to avoid trauma during pregnancy that may be more prevalent in sports such as: skiing, basketball, soccer, scuba diving, horseback riding and racquet sports. These types of activities are acceptable prior to the pregnancy as they can increase the heart rate, cardiac output and improve fertility outcome. Walking, cycling, fitness training with light weights, swimming and yoga are acceptable types of exercise prior to and during the pregnancy. Running is also an excellent way to stimulate fertility by reducing the stress level and improving circulation, but excessive running results in ovulation problems.
As a final point, women should be encouraged to exercise regularly in order to maintain a healthy life style along with a balanced diet when trying to conceive and also during the pregnancy.