Exercise & Fertility
from a Mind Body Medicine Angle
Please note this information is provided as a general guide only & for specific personalised information please consult your physician. This information is not to be used in place of medical information, please consult your Doctor for personal advice on exercise and fertility.
When trying to conceive you can be best served by ‘tuning in’ to your body on a daily basis, rather than following a set weekly exercise schedule. To assist you to ‘Tune in’ here are some simple questions to ask yourself prior to exercising.
In order for your body to be in an ideal state to conceive you require a healthy Nervous System. Meaning your body & mind need to be operating from your parasympathetic nervous system (the I am safe system) predominantly, unless you are in fact in danger ( i.e. a car is about to hit you and then you react appropriately) . Put simply your Body needs to feel like you are ‘Safe’.
Exercise undeniably has numerous health benefits, however the type of exercise you do can increase the ‘stress’ your body is under and therefore have an impact on your body’s desire to conceive. Studies have shown that the highest conception rates occurred in the groups with the lowest exercise incidence. However I really believe exercise is super important for your physical AND your mental health so how can we get the best of both worlds?
It all comes down to how much ‘stress’ you put in the bucket each day. You see if you have an empty bucket at the start of the day, you can only add so much to it before it will overfill. Think of your body like this bucket which can only hold so much stress before something goes wrong.
Things that add to this stress bucket can include;
Lack of quality sleep, dehydration, poor diet, emotional stress & worry, caffeine, exercise, alcohol. So before we exercise it can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions that can help you determine the type & intensity of exercise you do that day.
Am I Tired?
YES = Then ? Have I had a busy / tiring or stressful day?
YES = REST / Yoga
NO = Gentle exercise only Walking, Yoga, Pilates
Am I Stressed?
YES = REST / Yoga / Breathwork / Meditation / Nature walk
NO = Exercise
Am I Ovulating?
YES = REST / Yoga
NO = Exercise
The idea with asking yourself these questions prior to exercising is to encourage you to tune in to your body and listen to what it needs on that day.
- Exercise according to how you feel THAT day. Not according to a predesigned ‘plan’ or program.
- Walking is the optimal cardio exercise.
- Add Yoga to your weekly program, as yoga calms the nervous system
- Weights are ok, but using the anaerobic energy system- meaning heavy weight, low reps. Choose a weight where you can only complete 6-8 reps. Rest for several minutes then repeat.
- Add some breathwork to your excursive session- before or after or when you stretch. Deep breathing activates the Parasympathetic nervous system which is the system you need to be in to conceive.
What’s the difference between walking and running?
Put very simply you were designed to run so you could do so…. from danger. Your nervous system does not know you are running on a treadmill in a safe and comfortable gym. Run = increased breathing rate, increased Heart Rate, increased blood supply to muscles. Physiologically ALL the same responses that occur when you are, yep that’s right, “flighting” or running from that lion.
Walking is an IDEAL exercise for the body, it loves it. You are moving, yet your body is calm. Particularly if you can walk in nature.
But I run as my stress relief, Running helps me relieve my stress?
Yes it does! I agree, because your ‘stress’ (whatever it is) is your ‘danger’ to your nervous system. So running is allowing you to….. Run from your danger… meaning your are activating your ‘Fight or flight’ nervous system response in order to run from your problem/ stress and so you ‘feel’ better.
However unfortunately all it has done is heighten the sympathetic nervous system more.
Sitting calming in a yoga class, may well make you feel “more stressed” and that’s because you are actually ‘sitting with’ your stress rather than running from it. However physiologically it’s preferable for your body as your breathing rate slows, your heart rate slows and the blood supply is allowed to move into your organs (making things like digestion- assimilation of food, absorption of nutrients and…. Conception easier and more appealing to the body).
Your body will remember this calming state and after a few classes or weeks you will find that you feel calmer for it, not worse. But initially it will be an adjustment.
My friend fell pregnant and she exercises really intensely 5x a week.
Everybody and every body is very different but at the end of the day it will always come down to your nervous system & how much stress is in that bucket.
Her intense exercise may be the only major stress she adds to her bucket OR she may do many of the things that remove stress from the bucket every week too.
The aim of this info sheet is to help train you to listen to your OWN body for what she needs rather than following a one person fits all guide.
Remove stress? How do you remove stress from the bucket?
The idea here is to spend more of your day living in the parasympathetic Nervous System as opposed to the Sympathetic Nervous System (fight or flight).
Things that encourage PNS activity are- Breathwork and deep breathing, deep sleep, meditation, mindfulness, massage, walking in nature.
Other things that reduce the stress in the bucket are drinking plenty of good quality water, eating nutrient dense foods, having a good relationship with how you feel about yourself (You would not believe the stress that negative self talk has on your body!)
Why can’t I exercise whilst ovulating?
From a Mind Body Medicine perspective, your body is viewed in terms of Yin & Yang. This crosses over to Western medicine in the form of Homeostasis (Balance). Your body is programmed to seek balance and Yin & Yang is how we assess the level of balance.
Ovulation is an extremely YIN process and therefore requires Yin energy to do so effectively. Yin concepts/ processes are; Rest, Stillness, yielding, passiveness. In order to allow your body to do a very Yin process, ideally you give your body Yin enegry…. I.e REST!
I’m also going to assume, that because you live in todays society of rush, strive, achieve and move you are probably more Yang anyway, meaning your Yin energy is likely already somewhat depleted. So resting whilst ovulating is only going to help your body do the ovulating process it is trying to do.
And after all is said and done, have FUN trying! It is a special time of life. Your body is a miracle in it’s own right and if you listen in closely, she will tell you what you need.
In order to conceive your body requires a state of balance. Having someone complete a Mind Body Medicine assessment for you can assist in identifying imbalances that may be present.