Are fitness and infertility related? Before I even begin my blog (as my first post was just an introduction), I want to make a disclaimer. I am not an OBGYN, an endocrinologist or any type of medical doctor. I understand that every pregnancy and post-pregnancy experience is very different and unique to the individual and even each pregnancy for the same woman can be very different. I will be writing about my personal experience through infertility, exercising before, during and after my pregnancy as well as my experience working with clients before, during and after. Again, my goal of this blog is education, but I realize that the information will not apply to everyone and just as I tell all my clients, please check with your doctor if you have any questions before, during or after your pregnancy.
Back to infertility and fitness. There are so many causes of infertility that I am not even going to attempt to discuss each one. However, I do want to talk about fitness and infertility since this is a fitness blog. Can too much exercise cause infertility? Yes and No. Exercise is stress on your body. For the average exerciser, this stress is good stress. Your body benefits from the exercise. However, for some people possibly combined with other stressors (poor nutrition, work stress, relationship stress etc.) too much exercise could pose a problem.
According to Dr. James Clapp, one of the most well respected researchers in pre- and post-natal exercise and author of “Exercising Through Your Pregnancy,” believes that infertility and exercise were first seen as related because infertility is rather common (5 to 10 percent of couples) and so is exercising. Dr. Clapp states in his book that due to the fact it is rather expensive and often difficult to find reasons for diagnosis, a doctor would often look at lifestyle factors. Many doctors couldn’t find anything specific so they would suggest for women to cut back on their exercise and gain a few pounds and that would solve the issue. This belief was then supported by two studies in the 1980’s. One of the studies showed that exercise can suppress or alter the normal pattern of hormonal secretion that regulate the production and the release of eggs from the ovary. Dr. Clapp states that this study was atypical as it took untrained women and suddenly put them on a very high-volume training regimen. In the second study, the poor nutritional intake and other stressors could have contributed to the infertility.
Dr. Clapp continues this subject in his book with his own study conducted on 500 women trying to get pregnant. Most of the women were recreational athletes (defined as exercising 20-60 minutes, three to five times a week) Dr. Clapp came to the conclusion that “most healthy women can exercise vigorously without interfering with their fertility.”
Yet, just like many things, there can be too much of a good thing. Dr. Clapp’s study was only conducted on specific type of women with specific types of exercises. So though in his research he did not see a correlation between exercise and infertility he does state that “I suspect that there is a threshold level of exercise above which infertility does become a problem.” Therefore women performing at much higher training levels could see a problem.
Dr. Clapp thinks that the threshold for exercise tolerance before it becomes an issue for women trying to conceive is very high but agrees can be compounded by other stressors. For some women exercise stress, combined with others stressors can cause issues. Other women can continue high intensity exercise with no issues, hence my answer of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ if exercise can cause infertility.
Stay tuned for Part II of “Fitness and Infertility” where I will share my own journey as well as a few of my other fitness friends battle with infertility.
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