Exercise and Fertility: When Is Exercise Harmful To Your Fertility?

Exercise and Fertility

Let’s discuss exercise and fertility. If you’re planning for a pregnancy, the idea that exercise could be bad for you probably hasn’t crossed your mind.  Most people concentrating on improving their health think that eating the right foods and getting more exercise are at the top of the list.  Many types of gym programs and boot camps sell the idea of  “the more, the better.” But it turns out that’s not always true.

Exercise and Fertility

Fertility specialist Dr. Paul Magarelli, MD recently pointed out that 3-4 hours a week of vigorous exercise for women trying to conceive decreases their chance of a pregnancy that cycle.

If your BMI is 25 or above, your chances of conceiving are lowered by 22%.  But, if you’re a leaner person with a BMI of less than 25, you are 30% less likely to get pregnant that month.1 This is a significant difference!

So, spin classes, boot camps, 60-minute long cardio classes, 10-mile hikes, and the like are all hard on your fertility.

That doesn’t mean you can’t go back to your favorite activities later, but while trying to get pregnant, you may want to set them aside. A small study of a group of women ages 18 to 45 who were having IUIs, found no pregnancies among the women who were strenuous exercisers – those who were running or fast cycling 1 to 5 times a week. 2   It appears that intense exercising even once a week can have a negative impact on fertility.

Is Interval Training good for you?

Running Woman

Interval training is a great replacement for longer workouts. Repeated short bursts of high intensity activity with a short recovery period in between helps your body build more than it breaks down. You can do this on a bike, elliptical, treadmill, with jumping jacks, stair running; really, whatever you like to do.

The goal is to exert your muscles until they fatigue and you “feel the burn” within 30-60 seconds.  That is the burst you’re looking for.

If it takes more than 60 seconds to reach the point where you have to stop, the exercise level is not intense enough.

For example, if you’re running, you’d probably need to run uphill to achieve this.  The next step is recovery – you simply walk around for the same amount of time that you exerted.

Repeating this combination 4-5 times is all you need to do to achieve the desired effect.  If you do more intervals than that, your body responds as if you’ve done a long cardio workout, which we don’t want.  Doing 20-30 minutes of intervals is not the right approach.

Benefits of Interval Training

Burst or interval training done correctly builds more muscle mass and bone density than long aerobic sessions.  Another excellent benefit is the lowering of the stress hormone cortisol.  It’s a win-win!  This type of exercise can offset the stress of going through fertility treatments.

Here are a couple of studies that show it produces results:

Other Exercises for Fertility

Yoga, barre classes, light weight training, Pilates, Gyrotonics, walks, swimming, and Tai Chi are all very good approaches to exercise as well. It’s always good to balance stretching with muscle building, so be sure to remember to stretch after exercise.

Pilates Exercise for Fertility

Exercises for Men’s Fertility

Dr, Magarelli also tells us that for men trying to become a father, the exercise picture looks a whole lot different.  Exercising 9-14 hours a week improves sperm, but they look even better with more than 15 hours of exercise a week.

Yes, men are different animals!

Studies continue to show that DNA, the genetic material carried within the sperm, breaks down less in men who exercise.3  DNA fragmentation is linked to repeated pregnancy loss.  A study of 376 sedentary men found that any type of exercise improved sperm health, but a combination of resistance training with treadmill sessions proved to be the best approach.4

Portland Acupuncture Studio on Exercise and Fertility

Lifestyle recommendations are a part of every patient’s treatment plan at Portland Acupuncture Studio.  We help you sort through the different things you’ve read online, or well-meaning suggestions from family and friends.  We can help you keep your fertility at the forefront as you hit the gym, and be sure that your exercise routine brings you closer to your goals, not further away.  Having healthy pregnancy is a distinctly different goal than trying to kick it harder than anyone else at boot camp! All things in their own time…

Happy exercising!

Established patients can schedule online, patients who haven’t seen us at Kwan Yin Healing Center call (503) 701-8766, or email us to schedule your appointment.


  1. A prospective cohort study of physical activity and time to pregnancy. Wise, Lauren A. et al. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 97, Issue 5, 1136 – 1142.e4
  2. The association between exercise and pregnancy rates in patients undergoing intrauterine insemination for infertility: a pilot study. Weedin, E.A. et al. Fertility and Sterility, Volume 104, Issue 3, e87, Sept 2015
  3. High-Intensity Exercise Training for Improving Reproductive Function in Infertile Patients: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Behzad HajizadehMaleki1BakhtyarTartibianPhD2
  4. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, Volume 39, Issue 7, July 2017, Pages 545-558
  5. Effects of Aerobic, Resistance, and Combined Exercise on Markers of Male Reproduction in Healthy Human Subjects, Hajizadeh Maleki, Behzad1; Tartibian, Bakhtyar2; Chehrazi, MohammadThe Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: April 2019 – Volume 33 – Issue 4 – p 1130–1145

About pdxacustudio

We are practitioners of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine specializing in fertility, IVF support, pregnancy care, general reproductive health, and peri-menopause support. You can read more about our work in our bio