In some situations, being “too fit”, or pushing your body to extreme physical limits, in sports and fitness, for instance, can have a negative effect on your fertility.
“In other words, there is no ovulation, so her period will be delayed,” he says.
SmartParents expert and Gleneagles Hospital ob-gyn Dr Christopher Chong adds that a hormonal imbalance could be the cause. “Very strenuous exercise is linked to higher levels of endorphins, which can affect the luteinising hormone surge that is necessary for ovulation,” he notes.
It’s also not uncommon for some athletes to have low weight or low body mass index, and this, too, can affect ovulation.
“No one knows the threshold that affects ovulation and hence, fertility. The cut-off line is not fixed, it depends on the individual.”
Doctors blamed former tennis pro Gigi Fernandez’s infertility on her athletic career. Retiring in 1997 at the age of 33, she underwent seven rounds of failed fertility treatments before finally conceiving twins in 2008 when she was 44 years old. She told The New York Times, “I felt almost like I wished I would have never played tennis.”
Former American Olympic swimmer Dara Torres also spoke about the fertility issues she encountered before conceiving her now 11-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace.
Of course, there are super-fit women, including sports champions, who have children without any issue. After all, tennis champ Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open while in the early stages of pregnancy, and Gal Gadot was five months pregnant when she did reshoots for Wonder Woman, following an intensive training regimen.
However, there is no fixed criteria that affects a woman’s ability to conceive. Dr Chong explains, “No one knows the threshold that affects ovulation, and hence, fertility. The cut-off line is not fixed, it depends on the individual.”
So, how do you know whether you’re keeping fit yet not overstraining your body? We spell it out for you…
1. Don’t overstress your body
Fernandez once said, “As an athlete, you have this attitude, ‘I can do anything with my body”… Your biological clock is ticking, but you’re in denial.”
If you’re planning to get pregnant, recognise your body’s limits and know when to take it easy. You can keep fit with moderate physical activities instead ― go for a 2km jog, or take a leisurely swim in the pool.
Dr Lim adds that your body gets stressed, in other ways, too, like if you get anorexia as a result of severe dieting resulting in anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder characterised by abnormally low body weight). Also, if you work shifts and lack sleep, “The hormones in the brain may not work so well ― this can cause a lack of maturity of existing follicles in the ovary and stop ovulation.”
2. Watch your diet
Extreme dieting can affect a woman’s fertility. “Very low weight, as well as severe obesity, can affect ovulation and hence fertility,” says Dr Chong.
Some women who work out regularly also watch their diet...a little too much. Restricting one’s diet and not consuming enough healthy fats can give rise to difficulty in conceiving.
Once the periods become irregular and delayed, that would indicate that the woman is not ovulating.
3. Keep track of your periods
“One should be conscious of any slight change in the menstrual flow (amount) and its regularity,” Dr Lim advises. A reduced menstrual flow is an early sign that perhaps you have exercised or dieted excessively.
Once the periods become irregular and delayed, that would indicate that the woman is not ovulating. “She should not let it get to that extent,” says Dr Lim. “Listen to your own body and it will tell you how much to push yourself.”
4. Seek help
Dr Lim notes that in most cases, being “too fit” will not impact a woman’s fertility permanently. The issue can be easily reversed when she stops exercising. Dr Chong adds that while ovulation pills are available, it’s more important to treat the root cause of a woman’s inability to get pregnant.
“If the root cause is assessed to be strenuous exercise, then this is what has to be cut down,” he says.
In addition, Dr Lim says that men should also take note of their exercise attire. “Some can cause excessive heat around the testicles, affecting the sperm count and quality.”
But don’t give up your daily workout yet. Just take precautions to ensure that you aren’t working out to the point of extreme exhaustion, which will mess with your fertility.
All said, if you have trouble conceiving and are a fitness freak, you might want to look into this aspect of your lifestyle to boost your conception chances.
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