Have you ever wondered why you feel so tired after a day of sitting at your desk? Sorry to say it, but it’s not because you are working your brain so hard that it has drained you of all your energy. The sensation we connect to a lack of energy is actually a lack of use of energy. We are actually craving activity rather than “relaxing”, it is a sensation of atrophy which makes us think we feel tired. Like they say; use it or lose it!
Most of us can understand the simplicity of a healthy body being a fertile body. But what more of us should know is that advancements in health science have pinpointed many treatable causes of infertility as well as nutritional and exercise programs best suited to help remedy them. Infertility is not the same as sterility, there is hope.
Exercise Programs for fertility need to include resistance, aerobic and flexibility/stress management training. All play independent roles in improving your chances of conception but it is important to remember that for best results all need to be included in your routine. They work together in creating a healthy, receptive and fertile body. This goes for men as well. Insulin resistance is also an issue for many overweight men and it will have consequences on hormonal equilibrium.
As mentioned in part 1 of this blog, body weight is often a factor with infertility. Overweight and underweight can have adverse effects and so a happy medium is sought out. If underweight, both fat and muscle mass should be gained. A nutrition plan including plenty of organic meats, fish, nuts, low glycemic index carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables (please see part 1 for a more detailed list of foods appropriate for fertility diets) should be implemented with a schedule that deters the body from going into a fasting phase at any time of the day. Along with this, sufficient resistance training should be included to help utilize the high protein foods in promoting lean muscle mass. Aerobic activity should be included in every workout but not so much as to burn off all the extra calories you need to gain weight. When overweight, a nutrition plan made up of similar foods but different proportions and scheduling should be included. While aerobic training should be included in every work out it should not overshadow the resistance training, or the flexibility/stress management.
So how exactly does exercise increase fertility other than altering weight? Well, as mentioned in part 1, insulin sensitivity is a widespread cause of fertility problems for many women. Insulin sensitivity is a byproduct or symptom of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), but is also common amongst those without PCOS and is therefore an even more widespread and often undiagnosed point of complication when trying to conceive. Both Aerobic and resistance training have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity.
If you want to improve your muscles response in sports you need to train them. The same thing goes for insulin sensitivity. Muscle tissue is very sensitive to insulin levels which affect its ability to use glucose for energy. Regular use of your muscles can improve their ability to respond to insulin and use glucose efficiently.
Insulin response also declines with age specifically because number of mitochondria declines with age. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells. They are directly involved in glucose metabolism. Both resistance and aerobic training increase mitochondria function. Sufficient levels of aerobic activity have also been seen to increase the number of mitochondria which in turn will make your body more efficient in energy use and transportation of nutrients and waste.
When I mention flexibility/stress management training I mean a specific set of actions done to curtail the stresses of everyday life and the often lingering stress of complications in conceiving. Such actions are also meant to create a body-mind connection, activate and relax deep core muscles and increase blood circulation and flexibility. These actions can include yoga, simple stretching, meditation, Tai Chi and some forms of Chi Kung. All of these types of exercises help regulate hormone levels by reducing anxiety and increasing waste removal efficiency. They can also stimulate the lymphatic system as well as help with digestion and repair from microtrauma (normal) caused by regular exercise.
Many active and passive stretches exist that can both open up the hips and bring attention to the deep core muscles; transversus abdominus, lumbar mulitifidus, pelvic floor muscles, etc.. While it may prove difficult to isolate them at first, being able to contract and relax these muscles at will, will increase your capacity to fully relax and allow proper blood flow. You need to create a warm, relaxed, inviting environment for your baby and clenched muscles and stagnant, cold tissue is not going to help!
Resistance training should be as functional as possible. If you have a sport that you take part in then training for your sport would be appropriate. But a little intuition and creativity from you and your trainer can aid in designing a program that can be functional in preparation for pregnancy and beyond. If you can, seek out a trainer specialized in prenatal or postnatal training. Prenatal type resistance exercises, along with a few adjustments will not only be safe but functional for future circumstance. I stress functionality because while you may not be a professional athlete, as a mother-to-be, your body will have to endure weight changes, posture and balance changes as well as a whole new set of movements that you are not used to. Though injury may sound like a strong word, this is exactly what you want to prevent. Functional training is not just for athletes.
Aerobic exercise should include whatever it is you like to do more, if you like to walk or run a lot, then do some jogging, if like biking or swimming then do those activities as your aerobic routine. Make it enjoyable and try to keep up a pace of what you feel is 60-70% capacity for 15-20 minutes every time you work out. If your warm-up and resistance program is designed properly it will keep your heart rate up while building muscle, so it is not necessary to run or bike for 45 minutes!
As always, it is best to speak with your doctor about the specifics of your situation and seek counsel from a nutritionist and personal trainer. Inform yourself as much as possible, it is amazing how much money can be saved and stress avoided by taking a leap of faith in your body and keeping your treatment simple with diet and exercise. While medicine, nutrition and exercise should work hand in hand, often people depend completely in medicine rather than the potential of their own healthy body.