What Has Exercise Got To Do With Fertility?

3 Jul, 2018

By Rachel Steward, Acupuncturist.

Are you trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatment?

Are you finding it stressful?

You are not alone!

In this article I will discuss some common experiences and how you can use exercise to build your resilience as you move through your fertility journey.

Trying to conceive, whether naturally or with IVF or other fertility treatment, is undeniably stressful. The monthly roller-coaster of hope and possibility can be extremely challenging for couples. In fact I recently came across some disturbing research:

A group of women undergoing IVF who took part in a behavioural study reported similar 

psychological stress to people with cancer (1).

A patient of mine undergoing IVF described the two week wait, from her embryo transfer until her blood test, as “terrifying”. Others talk about the lack of control and the sense of failure. One research study found the emotional impact of IVF “more strenuous” than the physical impact (2) and in many cases, stress is enough to discontinue treatment (3).

In my acupuncture practice I nearly always include some points for reducing stress – and this is a therapy that gives immediate relief. Every day patients emerge from their sessions feeling noticeably better than when they came in and many people say that their weekly treatment is a time when they can relax and recharge – a circuit breaker to the stress cycle.

However, I also like to encourage my patients to think about what they can do for themselves in this regard. I believe that exercise is a key strategy for the following reasons.

  • Exercise has an immediate positive effect on mood – whether you are depressed, anxious, over-whelmed or all of the above.
  • Research shows that for mild depression exercise is as effective as anti-depressant medication.
  • Exercise improves sleep quality, which is very commonly disturbed by stress, and vital for good hormonal balance.
  • If your naturopath has asked you to make some difficult changes – such as cutting out caffeine and/ or alcohol – exercise will boost your levels of serotonin – the feel-good neurotransmitter of the brain.
  • Exercise promotes a sense of accomplishment and strength – a great antidote to the feelings of powerlessness that can come alongside difficulties or delays in achieving a pregnancy.

Trying to conceive is often like a marathon rather than a sprint. It can feel like a full-time job that is never far from your mind. It is so easy to avoid exercise at the times when we would benefit from it the most.

It doesn’t have to be the gym – it could be gardening, walking or playing a game that involves movement.

Why not give yourself a challenge – say for one week – and see if you feel better?

References:

  1. Skiadas CC, Terry K, Pari MD, Geoghegan A, Lubetsky L, Levy S, et al. Does emotional support during the luteal phase decrease the stress of in vitro fertilisation? Fertility and Sterility, 2011; 96 (6):1467-72.
  2. Bouwmans CAM, Linsten BAME, Al M, Verhaak CM, Eijkemans RJC, Habbema JDF, et al. Absence from work and emotional stress in women undergoing IVF or ICSI: An analysis of IVF-related absence from work in women and the contribution of general and emotional factors. Acta Obstet Gynecol. Scand. 2008;87(11):1169-75.
  3. Verhaak CM, Smeenk JMJ, Evers AWM, Kremer JAM, Kraaimaar FW, Braat DDM. Women’s emotional adjustment to IVF: a systematic review of 25 years of research. Hum Reprod. Update January/February 2007;13(1):27-36.