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Finding Balance During Fertility Treatment

a blog by Kim Griffiths, March 20, 2013

While you are probably aware that exercise is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and boosting fertility, you may not know exactly how much exercise is recommended for fertility patients and which exercises should be avoided.

Research has shown that a balance of healthy diet and low impact exercise is important for regulating hormones. Inactivity can worsen conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), while excessive amounts of exercise and calorie restriction are linked to fertility conditions like Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

Joshua Hurwitz, M.D. of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT) says fertility doctors encourage low impact exercise to reduce the effects of over-exercising on the body. “There is plenty of excellent research data out there that says high impact exercise can take a toll on the body. It can trick the body into shutting down a woman’s fertility. Things like calorie restriction and high impact exercise decrease signals to the ovaries. Ovulation and embryo implantation can both be affected,” he says.

Fertility patients are also advised to avoid high impact exercise due to the risk of ovarian torsion while undergoing ovarian stimulation for their intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles. Any activity that compresses or applies pressure to the abdomen or involves twisting and bending is not recommended. Fertility doctors also advise against Hot yoga or Vinyasa yoga. The idea is to keep the metabolism going and for both men and women without raising temperature or heart rate too much.

However, there are plenty of activities fertility patients can engage in which not only keep their heart rate and core body temperature at recommended levels and address their need for physical activity, but relieve stress as well. These include walking, swimming, low intensity biking, and traditional yoga.

Dr. Hurwitz explains: “There is definitely a mind-body connection with stress. Stress impacts every aspect of health: some people have [gastrointestinal] upset when they are stressed, some people get headaches when they are stressed, some people grind their jaw when they are stressed, and some have a negative impact on their fertility. Instead of telling people to relax, we use an integrated approach to provide them the tools to help them relax. We don’t see patients as a collection of eggs or sperm, but treat the whole body overall. ”

The fertility treatment staff at RMACT have taken a comprehensive approach toward addressing fertility and total body health by encouraging patients to evaluate their nutrition, seek support group or therapy outlets, and further understand the mind-body connection with low impact exercise like yoga.

“There are 26 trillion cells in our bodies and almost every single one is doing what it is supposed to do. But fertility patients tend to focus on the ones they think are not working. Infertility is a passing issue and you are going to overcome it,” says Lisa Rosenthal, Fertile Yoga Instructor at RMACT. RMACT’s yoga program teaches patients not to focus on the things their bodies are doing wrong (as may be the case with infertility), but to focus on strengths. “We create mantras and physical movements to help the patient move slowly, more deliberately, and realize ‘Hey, this isn’t such a crappy body after all’,” she says. In addition, Rosenthal encourages fertility patients to focus on their breathing. Each exhalation relieves stress and burdens while each inhalation is nourishment for the body, she affirms.

Low impact exercise is beneficial to female patients, and any activity is recommended for males to regulate testosterone levels. “I always tell male partners that this is a team sport; there is stress on males too. The team can’t play well if members aren’t up to par,” Hurwitz states. He encourages patients to evaluate all aspects of their lifestyle: diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, recreational drug use including marijuana, and having a “beer gut” all affect the body’s ability to make healthy sperm.

“Patients try to negotiate with me and I tell them they have to strike a balance. The key is to find a middle ground,” Hurwitz advises.

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