EXERCISE is usually touted as the panacea for many of the issues faced by women, but is there any merit to concerns about engaging in exercise while trying to get pregnant?
Gynaecologist Dr Anna-Kay Taylor Christmas shares some of the ways exercise can impact fertility.
Being overweight or obese can negatively impact your fertility
Obese women, especially those with a high percentage of abdominal fat, are at a higher risk of reduced fertility and infertility. As such, women with excess weight are encouraged to “exercise as a part of a balanced plan to lose weight [along with good diet and sleeping habits] to improve fertility as well as pregnancy outcomes,” Dr Taylor Christmas advised.
Regular exercise improves heart health and overall wellness
Exercising regularly and getting your body pregnancy-ready are essential because the body will be better able to adapt to the changes in pregnancy.
“Being physically active decreases the risks of severe complications from high blood pressure, which is still a leading cause of death and severe illness in pregnancy in Jamaican women,” Dr Taylor Christmas advised.
The baby may also be affected by his/her mother's physical activities.
“If the child's mother is active it can also affect the baby, who will also benefit from a decreased risk of complications related to diabetes, high blood pressure and the long-term effects that they bring,” Dr Taylor Christmas said.
Exercise can help to ward off some unpleasant pregnancy symptoms
Getting a good fitness regimen going before conceiving improves the chances of maintaining a regular exercise programme for the duration of the pregnancy.
“Not only does that help to decrease the severity of some of the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy such as bloating and backaches, it also increases the chances of a smooth, well-tolerated delivery process,” Dr Taylor Christmas said.
While the benefits of exercise in pregnancy are numerous and are generally safe, exercising does not always get the green light.
Excessive exercise can increase the risk of infertility
“Excessive exercise, especially high-intensity activities, can increase the risk of infertility or difficulty conceiving. This means that exercising every day and engaging in heavy lifting and other types of rigorous exercises may reduce a woman's chance of getting pregnant,” Dr Taylor Christmas said.
She explains that excessive loss of body fat stores can send signals to the brain that eventually lead to interruption of regular menstruation and ovulation. Regular ovulation is a requirement for conception. Similarly, being under the expected weight for height (having an abnormally low BMI) can also interrupt regular ovulation and lead to loss of menstruation.
Excess weight loss can affect conception and pregnancy
“Being severely underweight from excess exercise and inadequate diet can also affect a woman's chances of conception. It may also lead to complications for the baby and mother in pregnancy, such as low birth weight, increased risk of bone fractures, and nutrient deficiencies,” Dr Taylor Christmas advised.
She advised women who are doing pre-conception planning that the best exercises for fertility are those that promote cardiovascular health from aerobic exercise, along with bone and muscle strength. These include running, walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, Pilates and yoga, as well as strength training exercises like lunges, squats, crunches and push-ups.
“The key to improving fertility with exercise is to start! If you are not yet fit, start slow and easy and gradually increase the duration and intensity of the workouts. The aim is for 30-40 minutes a minimum of three or four times per week. Be consistent and keep a regular schedule and you will be well on your way,” Dr Taylor Christmas advised.