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Exercise has a variety of effects on the body, so it’s no wonder that it can also play a role in fertility.

If you get too much exercise, and fertility levels can drop greatly, especially if you’re underweight. On the flip side, too little exercise can also lower chances of conceiving, especially if you’re overweight. The goal is to find a happy medium that keeps your fertility levels high and your body healthy.

Get off the Couch

Studies abound illustrating why losing weight isn’t just about looking good, it’s about living good. For women trying to conceive, science has shown that extra weight can actually decrease fertility. In fact, infertility is nearly three times higher among obese women, according to a 1994 Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, study. The reason? Thirty percent of estrogen comes from fat cells, so the more fat a woman carries, the more estrogen.

When estrogen levels are askew, all the cycles of fertility are negatively affected, from ovulation to menstruation to conception. Obesity may also lead to the body’s resistance to insulin, causing it to overcompensate and produce extra insulin, which, in turn, can put a halt on ovulation.

Too Much of a Good Thing

However, for all the benefits of exercise, overdoing it can actually hurt a couple’s chance of conceiving. For men, heat becomes the culprit, killing off sperm when testicles grow warmer than 96 degrees, which is a common occurrence in those getting too much exercise. For women, the same body fat affecting estrogen when overweight will decrease estrogen production in those with too little body fat. As body fat drops, some women may notice irregular periods (ologomenorrhea) or even stop menstruating entirely (amenorrhea).

Still, even what some consider to be a normal amount of exercise, four hours a week, has been found to cause trouble. Another Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School study, published in 2006, found that women undergoing IVF who had worked out for four hours a week for one to nine years lowered successful conception by 40 percent.

Ripe for the Picking

The best approach is to fit in exercise, but take it easy. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., recently released findings that showed just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day was enough to reap its rewards, including stress reduction. Yoga is especially touted for being a gentle form of exercise that eases stress, promotes weight loss and increases fertility.

Studies found couples who practiced yoga were more likely to conceive during IVF treatments than those who didn’t, and in 2000, Harvard Medical School researchers revealed women who participated in yoga and relaxation techniques were three times more likely to get pregnant.