At my first visit to the infertility clinic, the doctor recommended strongly that I cut back on exercise; he advised me to keep my heart rate below 140 beats per minute. Good hard sweat sessions had been one of the few things keeping me sane between ovulation predictor kits, sex on a schedule and monthly depression jags. Now I worried that I’d selfishly ruined my chances at conception for the past year thanks to my four weekly workouts.
What’s right for you?
As it turns out, my doctor was being conservative, and I didn’t need to feel guilty for exercising. Studies have shown that the effect of exercise on fertility is extremely individual. Some women can work out strenuously and get pregnant easily, while for others a lower level of exertion can impede the process.
“If you’re just starting out and have normal cycles, there’s no reason to change your workout routine,” says Alice Domar, PhD, executive director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF and co-author of Conquering Infertility. (Of course, if you exercise so hard that your periods stop, you’ll need to work with a physician to get your cycle back on track.)
If you’re having problems
“For a woman having trouble getting pregnant, I’ll go over her routine,” says Hope Ricciotti, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School. “If she’s running 10 miles a day, I’ll ask her to cut back to something like five. But for a woman who isn’t in good shape, five miles a day is too much.” She encourages women to take up cycling or get on the elliptical trainer because these workouts are easier to maintain into pregnancy than higher-impact modes such as jogging.
Domar recommends that women who’ve been struggling to conceive try taking three months off from the gym as a test. If the three-month hiatus doesn’t do the trick, “you know exercise wasn’t the problem,” she says.
Playing it safe
If you’re concerned that your workouts might be making it harder to get pregnant, try following the ACOG guidelines for exercise during pregnancy. You can get full information from their website, www.acog.org. Here are some of the highlights:
[ ] Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
[ ] Healthy women should exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes on most if not all days. (If you can speak normally while exercising, your heart rate is at an acceptable level.)
[ ] Walking and swimming are good choices for exercise that can be continued throughout pregnancy.
[ ] Skip activities in which you might fall or get a serious blow to the belly (such as gymnastics, downhill skiing, horseback riding, contact sports).
[ ] Pass on scuba diving (because a fetus can’t decompress as easily as an adult).