Exercise and fertility: What you need to know
So, just how much and when should you exercise if you’re trying to conceive?
A common question I get from my patients who are trying to conceive is, “How much and when should I exercise?” This is such a great question because one can definitely over-exercise thereby interfering with the conception process, and yet, a woman needs some movement in her body to assist the menstruation, ovulation, and potential implantation phases of her cycle.
In Chinese medicine we adhere to the old adage, everything in moderation. This goes for exercise, too. Too much exercise can damage Yin and deplete Qi and Blood while diverting energy to the musculoskeletal system at the expense of the reproductive system. This diversion of energy can cause things like hormone imbalance, anovulation (when a woman no longer ovulates), and amenorrhea (when a woman no longer menstruates).
Moderate exercise, on the other hand, is good for improving circulation of Qi and Blood, especially around reproductive organs, and mobilizing what we refer to as ‘dampness’ in Chinese medicine. The results are improved emotions, lower stress, balanced blood sugar levels, balanced hormones, reduced inflammation, healthy weight, and increased fertility.
A good rule to follow is that exercise should make you feel refreshed and energized afterwards, not exhausted. Most people will benefit from moderate exercise for 30 minutes almost every day. Start slowly if you haven’t been exercising regularly, and scale back if you reach the point of endorphin rush.
Perhaps the most important aspect of exercising when trying to conceive is to exercise in harmony with the four phases of your menstrual cycle. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your exercise routine in order to optimize your fertility.
During your menstruation week, also known as Phase 1, it’s important to avoid strenuous aerobic exercise. According to Chinese medicine, the time of bleeding is an especially vulnerable time for a woman’s health. It’s more likely that you will “injure” the Blood, Qi, and Yin if you over-exert yourself during menstruation, meaning you’re more likely to get sick or aggravate a chronic, constitutional weaknesses.
Menstruation is a sacred time of detoxification and renewal, a time to focus within. As your Kidney Yin and Yang energies decline, try meditative exercise like qi gong, yoga, and tai chi to help tune-in to your body and inner world. Also, gentle exercise like simply walking can help the menstrual blood to flow more smoothly and reduce cramps and clots.
Phase 2, the week after your period, also known as the pre-ovulation stage, is a time when you can engage in 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day. You are no longer bleeding, and your Kidney Yin and Yang are at their lowest levels. Engaging in moderate aerobic exercise can prevent stagnation as your Yin and Yang start to build again.
Ovulation week, Phase 3, is when your Kidney Yin and Yang energies are growing, giving you extra energy to support more activity and movement. Enjoy it! Gentle exercise like swimming, walking, yoga, or qi gong will keep smooth energy flowing through your reproductive organs, assisting the fallopian tubes in their precise movement to catch the egg that is released. This subtle, crucial process requires movement of Qi, but not too much or else it can be disrupted. Avoid high impact exercise like running or step aerobics this week.
Finally, Phase 4, the week of potential implantation. Kidney Yin and Yang energies have reached their peak and start to decline again. As the egg makes its way down the fallopian tube and hopefully into the uterine lining, we can assist this gentle journey by keeping our Qi and Blood moving. Moderate exercise like swimming, biking (not mountain biking), walking, yoga, or qi gong are wonderful activities to try this week. Make sure to avoid intensely aerobic or high impact exercise like running, which could jostle the egg out of its cozy nest.