Getting fit for IVF

There’s evidence to show that shaping up with exercise before you start IVF can increase your chances of getting pregnant. In fact, a study in the US revealed that women who were active before their IVF cycle were three times more likely to conceive as women who were least active. That’s quite an astonishing finding.

The good news is that exercise doesn’t have to be hard or macho to be beneficial. If you have an aversion to becoming a gym bunny, you can get fit at home. Keeping active is what matters — gardening, housework, shopping and a brisk walk are all good ways to get the body working. Scientists are not yet sure why exercise is so beneficial for fertility, but it may have something to do with getting the body to work efficiently.

When the heart, lungs, kidneys, hormones, blood and brain are all working well together, this creates the best environment for the fertilised egg. Exercise also lowers blood pressure and insulin levels. Too much insulin is believed to harm the development of the embryo in your womb.

Top tips on exercise before IVF:

  • Do some exercise two or three times a week, especially if you spend most days sitting down
  • Doctors suggest all adults should do at least two and a half hours moderate exercise a week
  • Jogging, cycling, swimming, a brisk walk and gardening are all good ways to exercise
  • Gentle exercise such as Tai-Chi and Qi Gong yoga are great to calm the mind and improve your mood, they also lower cortisol levels
  • No need to overdo it with vigorous workouts, just keep on your feet and do what feels comfortable
  • If you rarely exercise, start by walking more often then try other exercises such as a swim or jog
  • Resist the urge to do too much high aerobic or intensive exercise (such as running or weight lifting) as this can harm your chances – studies show that more than four hours of aerobic activity per week can lower pregnancy rates
  • Thrashing it out in the gym can be damaging to fertility as doing too little exercise; it can trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with reproductive functions
  • Excessive exercise reduces FSH and LH, resulting in less ovarian stimulation

What are the benefits?

  • A little stress is normal, but a lot can wreak havoc on your entire body, including your fertility – IVF is rated by people who have gone through it as one of the most stressful things they’ve had to cope with and exercise is an excellent stress-buster.
  • Stressed out people usually don’t feel like having sex — all the effort of trying to conceive can make couples feel as if their emotional and sex lives have been hijacked – the good news is that exercise can improve your sex drive.
  • Exercise can give you a great energy boost
  • Exercise outside and you boost your levels of vitamin D, important for fertility
  • Men’s fertility is less impacted by exercise but it can improve sex drive!

Aim for your healthy body weight

Weight can impact the success of IVF. If you are underweight or overweight, this can cause your body to produce more or less of the hormones that regulate ovulation. Miscarriages are more common, too, as are decreased pregnancy rates and lower live birth rates. Women can suffer medical problems such as hypertension, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

If you are overweight, talk to your doctor and find out your body mass index (BMI). You ideally want a BMI of between 18.5 to 25. Don’t despair if you are too high. Work with your doctor on starting an exercise program and a healthy diet. Even losing a few kilos can really help improve fertility. If you can lose 5-10% of your weight, it could work wonders and you’ll feel good for it. Avoid the temptation to try an extreme diet as it may do more harm than good.

If you are underweight, talk to your doctor about ways to improve your BMI. You may need to change how often you eat and what you eat. One way to build up your body is to eat foods such as organic dairy products, lean proteins, nuts, and whole grains. They are calorie-rich and nutritious. Protein bars and smoothies are a quick and easy way to get to your ideal BMI and improve fertility.

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