How to Exercise When You're Trying to Conceive— Minus the Confusion
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Looking for some clarity on how to adjust your workouts during this time? Here it is, straight from leading research and top fertility experts.
- Exercising while trying to conceive is not only safe, it's recommended for your physical and mental health.
- Avoid overtraining to prevent unnecessary stress on your body, which could affect your hormones and ovulation.
- Follow trainer-led workouts in NTC to create your own balanced fitness plan.
Read on to learn more ...
*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.
If you're about to try for a baby, you're probably thinking about the ways your lifestyle could affect your chances. Drinking all night? Probably not going to help. Skimping on sleep to get through your to-do list (or, let's be real, your Netflix queue)? Um, maybe not the best idea. Pushing yourself in the gym? That's where things get a bit more complicated.
What's clear is that maintaining a regular exercise routine can help prime your body for the huge physiological undertaking of carrying a little human for pregnancy and delivery, says Natalie Crawford, MD, a board-certified obstetrician, gynaecologist and endocrinologist in Austin and the co-founder of Fora Fertility.
What's unclear is whether exercise can help increase your fertility. But scientists do know that moderate amounts of weekly cardio and resistance training can improve hormone function and decrease stress throughout the process of trying to conceive, says Dr Crawford. And the mental strength and resilience that exercise builds might help you deal with the emotional ups and downs that can come with the territory, she adds.
There is a limit to those benefits, though: Too much intense exercise can increase your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone that triggers your fight-or-flight response), resulting in your body feeling like it might not be the safest time to make a baby, says Dr Crawford. In that event, you might stop ovulating.
So what's the right amount and type of exercise when you're trying to conceive (or TTC, as the experts say)? It's all here.
1. Ramp up early, then coast.
If you're already an avid exerciser, you can skip to the second paragraph in this section. If you're getting back into it or totally new to movement, high five, we're happy you're here. Assuming you're not ready to TTC yet but it's on the horizon, now is a nice time to ramp up your fitness levels and even turn up the intensity if it feels good, says Jane Wake, an ante- and post-natal exercise specialist in London. You may score better cardio fitness, strength, body awareness and more, a healthy foundation for trying to get pregnant.
When you shift into TTC mode, take your foot off the gas and focus on moderate exercise that feels great and helps you manage stress. Not sure how much to do? Though there's no magic formula, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that pretty much everyone exercise for at least 150 minutes weekly, and that includes you, says Alan B. Copperman, MD, the division director and clinical professor of obstetrics, gynaecology and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
2. Look out for signs that you're overdoing it.
So you heart your WODs and still want to keep some intensity in your workout game. If your doctor gives you the OK, go for it, says Dr Copperman. Unless your doc says otherwise, there's no type of workout that is off limits during TTC, he says. (Yay!)
That said, while you can still do the things you love and push yourself a bit, "this is not the time to be training for something new or constantly challenging your body", says Dr Crawford (you know, because of that cortisol thing).
You're probably going overboard if you're …
- Missing periods
- Feeling more tired than usual
- Becoming sick more often
- Getting injured more often
- Losing your hair or appetite
- Losing more than 0.9 kg a week
… according to Dr Crawford and Wake. If you notice any of these signs, scale back, suggests Dr Crawford. (Side note: Missing a period and feeling sick and tired can also happen if you're actually pregnant, so take a test if you're not sure!)
3. Strengthen and stretch your pelvic floor.
Training your core before you're pregnant can make for a more comfortable pregnancy, says Wake. This is especially true of the pelvic floor, the trampoline-like group of muscles at the bottom of your core that support all your abdominal organs and stabilise your pelvis and spine. Being able to consciously relax your pelvic floor can support you in having an easier birth, while strengthening those muscles can help prevent hip pain and accidental peeing while baby is still cooking, says Wake. (Better to know now, right?)
To strengthen and build more mind-body awareness around the area, practise pelvic floor lifts and lowers, says Wake. Exhale as you squeeze and lift the muscles between your pubic bone and tailbone (see if you can lift for a count of five to 10 seconds). Then as you inhale deeply, feel and visualise those muscles lowering and stretching before beginning another contraction. Aim to do this for three sets of 10 reps three times a day, every day, says Wake, or as often as you can remember.
4. Take it (really) easy if you're doing IVF.
If you're undergoing a fertility treatment, definitely consult your MD before doing any exercise, says Dr Crawford, mainly because the treatments that stimulate egg growth also cause the ovaries to fill with fluid. When they're enlarged in this way, the ovaries can move around very easily, and if you're not careful, they can twist and cut off their own blood supply, requiring emergency surgery (hard pass). So anything that can cause the ovaries to bounce around, like running, intense cycling or plyometric (jumping) exercises, is a no-no, says Dr Crawford. And at cross-training and yoga class, skip the upside-down movements. Until your doc clears you, it's best to exercise upright and stick with low-impact workouts and lighter weights when lifting, just to be safe.
You'll also want to be mindful of your workout intensity right after an embryo transfer to increase the chances of a successful implantation. Dr Crawford says she usually recommends patients keep their heart rate under 150 beats per minute to ensure enough blood supply to the uterus.
No matter where you are in your conception journey, research shows regular exercise can help keep you (and the baby you'll hopefully have) healthy throughout the process. And if you haven't been working out much, don't worry, says Dr Copperman: It's never too late to start moving. Heck, you can get in a few PF lifts while you read the short section below.
Words: Adele Jackson-Gibson
Photography: Vivian Kim
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