Fitness for fertility

We share advice on how you can use exercise to help boost your fertility and get your body ready for a baby if you're trying to get pregnant.
Why exercise?

If you're trying for a baby it's really important to get your body in as good a shape as possible and exercise is an essential part of this. In fact, research has shown that 'healthy' couples that include exercise as part of their regular routine not only find it easier to conceive but are also more likely to carry a healthy pregnancy to full term, experiencing fewer complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure along the way.

Getting used to exercise now also means that you're more likely to stick with it throughout your pregnancy and this in itself will help you to feel more in control of your body amidst so much change. Regular exercise while you're expecting also helps to regulate weight gain, boost your circulation, increase both your flexibility and endurance and help to reduce uncomfortable pregnancy side effects such as constipation, back ache and fatigue. In combination, the effects of regular exercise make for a healthier pregnancy, an easier delivery and make it a whole lot easier to lose your 'new mum tum' once your baby arrives.

Another important benefit of exercise is that it helps you to better cope with the stresses that often accompany trying for a baby. Prolonged and severe stress can actually impair your chances of getting pregnant as your body goes into 'emergency mode' and puts ovulation and conception on a back burner. However, the 'happy hormones' (endorphins) that are released when you exercise help to minimise this risk by encouraging you to relax.

As exercise has fertility benefits for both men and women it's a good idea to enlist your partner on a 'health kick' with you. This will not only make getting into shape a lot more fun (as long as you choose something you'll both enjoy) but it will also bring you closer together by taking the pressure off and helping you to focus on something that's not baby-related, so that you'll both be in the best mental and physical shape possible to become parents.

Getting started

Ideally you should be aiming to do 20 minutes of exercise 3 times a week, although 30-40 minutes 4 to 5 times a week would be even more beneficial. However, if you're new to exercise it's important that you start off slowly, increasing both the duration and intensity of your workouts gradually as you feel your fitness improve (so no need to start going for it like you're training for the Olympics!).

Before you start any new kind of exercise you should focus on increasing the amount of activity you do on a daily basis. Integrating more activity into your daily routine will mean you get some of the benefits without even feeling like you're exercising. Try taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to work, taking a walk in your lunch break or even getting off the bus or tube a couple of stops early so you get more of a walk wherever you're going.

Next you'll need to find an exercise that you enjoy; you're much more likely to keep with something that you don't find a chore so whether it's dancing, jogging, aerobics or even walking with friends once you've found 'your thing' you'll be more motivated to continue. Having said this, now may not be the best time to take up bungee jumping, rock climbing or the like because of the potential risks associated with these activities once you do fall pregnant!

Mixing up your workouts so that you combine a number of different types of exercise each week can really help to keep things interesting and can do wonders for your fitness too as your body is constantly being challenged and adapting to new types of movement and activity.

Exercise options that you will be able to comfortably continue throughout pregnancy include:
  • Walking - If you're new to exercise then walking is a great place to start as there are really no excuse not to get outside for a wander no matter how unfit you feel. Walking is a great cardiovascular exercise especially if you step to a reasonable pace and it also helps to tone your legs, back and tummy (not bad for an activity we so often take for granted). Make sure you wear some supportive shoes, take some water with you and build up your distance and pace slowly. If you don't find walking a particularly entertaining pastime why not try distracting yourself by listening to music on an mp3 player or enlisting a friend or partner to keep you company.

  • Swimming - Swimming is one of the best exercises to try both before and during pregnancy as it provides you with a great cardiovascular workout while using all of your major muscle groups so that you tone up too. However, the wonderful thing about swimming is that it does this without placing any strain on your joints and giving you a feeling of weightlessness that you will really appreciate once you're with bump!

  • Yoga - Yoga is fantastic for helping you to feel calm and relaxed while toning and elongating your muscles. Provided you find a qualified teacher you will be able to practice yoga throughout your pregnancy and it can be a great help in preparing your body for birth as the strength and flexibility that you will develop and controlled breathing that is taught will prove to be invaluable during labour. For maximum benefits combine yoga practice with walking so that you incorporate a more cardiovascular based activity into your routine too. Pilates is another good option as is yogalates (a combination of the two) or any other stretch based workout.

  • Dancing - Whether at home to your favourite tunes or in an organised class, dancing is a great way to stay fit and flexible when you're trying to conceive. As most dance styles involve moving your whole body you get a really good cardio workout while you tone your muscles and build your endurance. What's more, as there is such a variety of dance genres available you're almost guaranteed to find one that you love be it salsa or interpretive jazz! Once you fall pregnant you may need to take things a little easier when you dance as you will need to accommodate for your changing centre of gravity and the increased flexibility that you'll have in your joints to minimise the risk of falls and injury.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list and while, with a good instructor and a little caution most types of exercise can be modified for pregnancy, it will hopefully give you an idea of the huge range of options available to you and inspire you to get started and find something that you enjoy.

Precautions

Regardless of whether you are new to exercise or not you should make sure that you warm up before, and cool down and stretch after every exercise session as this will help to minimise the risk of injury. You should also be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and listen to your body so that you don't push yourself too hard too soon.

If at any time you experience breathlessness (beyond that which you'd expect from the exercise you're taking part in), dizziness, nausea, palpitations or any other kind of pain or discomfort you should stop whatever you are doing right away and take a break. Additionally, it's advisable to seek the advice of your doctor before embarking on any new exercise routine and this can be a good opportunity to discuss your plans to have a baby with them. It's also important to let the instructors or teachers of any exercise classes you take know when you do become pregnant so that they are aware of your circumstances and able to modify routines where necessary.

While in the vast majority of instances exercise will be beneficial for your fertility, if you exercise to such an extent that you become significantly underweight you may find that your menstrual cycle becomes disrupted and your ability to conceive affected. However, for most women who enjoy moderate exercise this isn't an issue to be concerned about at all as it usually only affects professional (or incredibly dedicated) athletes.

Keeping it up

The first time is always the hardest so the sooner you start exercising the better and, if you need any added motivation, just focus on the fact that by getting healthier you'll be making your body a better home for your baby once you do conceive. All that's left to say is good luck!

Do you include exercise as part of your routine? Whether you have tips you can share with other parents-to-be who are looking to get active or want to pick the brains of someone with more experience in getting fit, why not visit the AskBaby forums for a chat.

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I've started exercising the last few weeks and am really enjoying it. Was a bit concerned that i'm doing a bit too much but this article has dissolved my concerns. Thanks. My sister exercised right the way through her pregnancy (despite a few snide comments from fellow gym goers who could do with reading this article!) and she had a really health pregnancy and healthy baby. She's inspired me to get fit and this article has reinforced the need for me.Hopefully ill follow in her springy footsteps!
by amelie10 11th Aug 2011, 2:30pm

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