Could Hitting the Gym Be Bad News for Your Fertility?

Coral Tolisano

We all know that exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle and its benefits reach far beyond feeling good about that little black dress. Juggling work and play while staying fit can be a lot to handle. Still, if you’re like many women, that mood boosting rush of endorphins you get after a work-out can become addicting, and sometimes, detrimentally so.

I recently had a friend confide in me that she’s been missing her period. She’s certain she isn’t pregnant (and has taken tests to confirm). She eats well and hits the gym nearly every day. She’s healthy right? So what’s going on with the disappearance of her monthly menses? Certainly her first step should be to consult a specialist but this question got me thinking: Is it possible to overdo it even if you aren’t aiming for IRONMAN? The answer is simple. Yes! Over exercising can seriously impact your reproductive system. Menstrual irregularities like Oligomenorrhea (light or infrequent menstrual periods) and Amenorrhea (abnormal absence of periods) are just part of how strenuous exercise can interfere with your normal hormonal balance. Both can lead to serious complications with fertility and overall health. While this link has been well studied in athletes, research indicates that it might not take a marathon to mess up your flow. According to a recent study in Fertility and Sterility, a medical journal from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 5 hours or more of “vigorous exercise” a week, defined as “running, fast cycling, aerobics, gymnastics, or swimming”, can affect not just your period, but your likelihood of conception as well.

Under normal circumstances your body is producing healthy levels of both testosterone and estrogen. These hormones help regulate how and when you ovulate and menstruate, as well as maintain and repair tissue in your reproductive equipment. It’s not just your ovaries pumping out estrogen, its actually being produced in your body’s fat as well. So a reduction in body fat can also be a reduction of estrogen production. I’m certainly not saying that obesity is healthy – in fact being overweight can seriously interfere with fertility and cause life threatening complications. Instead, the challenge is to maintain a healthy weight and not over stress your system. Understanding your Body Mass Index (BMI).can help you assess what “normal weight” might mean for you. Keep in mind, though, that this is always just a guideline. Genetics, body shape and muscle mass are going to skew your numbers, and your personal best BMI will always be unique to you. Remember that healthy isn’t about pants sizes and scales; it’s about optimal balances for YOU.

There is yet another reason why striving for moderation in your exercise regime might mean cutting back on those golden runner’s highs. Endorphins can interfere with your ovaries’ and pituitary gland’s role in egg production and release. Further, the stress on your body produced when you “feel the burn” is all too real.

And, don’t forget to be good to yourself after a workout with a healthy and hearty meal. Over depletion of calories can cause your body to feel starved and shut down auxiliary power to less primary organs – like your reproductive ones. Think about it – if you’re starving yourself (even by accident) you can’t be ready to spare nutrients for a child. Simply put, eating enough after your workout is vital to your ability to carry on and conceive. We all want to look and feel our best, but try to avoid the dangers of too much and not enough.

Written by Coral Tolisano

Coral TolisanoHaving experienced fertility complications in her own family, Coral is now focused on helping young women stay healthy and better plan their reproductive options. Raised in New Mexico, Coral currently works as a writer in New York City, where she continues to investigate the role of science and nature in our everyday lives.

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