Want to boost your chances of getting pregnant? Here's how to get 'fertility fit'

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"These oils are safe to use during pregnancy". (Getty Images)
"These oils are safe to use during pregnancy". (Getty Images)
  • Research shows a clear link between lifestyle factors, such as exercise and diet, and fertility.
  • Together, they may have a positive impact on fertility.
  • From the Mediterranean diet to resistance training, a fertility coach explains how to get 'fertility fit'.

The ideals of “fitness” are often paired with a healthy heart or a six-pack, but now we are seeing correlations between exercising and fertility. Studies have shown that lifestyle factors can influence the probability of a successful pregnancy in respect of both the male and female contributions. Of these factors, exercise coupled with a sensible eating plan should be the focus for hormone regulation.

Feasting and fasting

For the vast majority of those without an underlying medical condition, the Mediterranean diet would be the go-to eating approach. This is a nutrition plan packed with fruits and vegetables, beans, good-quality protein (especially fish), low-glycaemic carbohydrates (such as quinoa, wild rice, brown rice and buckwheat) and, of course, olive oil.

A switch to eating more like our friends from the Greek Islands can dramatically improve our odds of a successful fertility outcome.

READ MORE | 'Do not wait' - A reproductive medicine specialist on timelines, treatment options and costs

And it turns out, it is not only what we eat, but when we eat that is important.

Incorporating prolonged periods of no eating, especially around bedtime, can improve our health. This means stretching out the fasting window, from the last meal before going to bed to the first one we consume the following day. Doing so promotes hormones for growth and repair and is crucial for the healthy functioning of all systems, including the reproductive system.

Throwing one’s weight around

To optimise our hormones, exercise, particularly resistance training, is especially helpful. It stimulates the pituitary and the thyroid glands, which control weight and speed up our metabolism.

Our metabolism ties into our body’s natural ability to process glucose and produce insulin (an important hormone). Glucose molecules are the tiny building blocks that remain after we have digested refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, pasta, white bread and sugar.

READ MORE | Laying the foundation for the golden egg: How to 'free-range' your path to fertility

A diet laden with these refined carbohydrates begins to take its toll on the body: insulin resistance, which can be a precursor to type II diabetes, occurs when our muscles become reluctant to soak up glucose from the bloodstream, and so the remaining glucose is then stored as fat.

The unused insulin, whose main role was to shuttle glucose into the muscles, is left to circulate in the bloodstream and starts to build up to very high levels.

Confounded ovaries

The response from the ovaries is different from that of the muscles. They do not develop insulin resistance and so continue to respond to messages from the circulating insulin. However, instead of insulin’s messages being soft whispers, at these very high levels, they become loud orders - causing chaos in the ovaries - thus disrupting their hormone regulation. 

In particular, these high insulin levels cause increases in hormones such as testosterone, which interfere with ovulation and are associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as well as infertility. Therefore, frequent high blood sugar levels harm fertility in otherwise healthy women

Connecting the dots

By understanding this mechanism, it is clear how indulging in too many refined carbohydrates and sugars can disrupt hormone production in the ovaries. The good news is that blood insulin levels begin decreasing after just ten minutes of exercise.

To add even more fuel to the metabolic fire, studies have shown that resistance training can increase our sensitivity to insulin even while we are at rest.

READ MORE | 'Do not wait' - A reproductive medicine specialist on timelines, treatment options and costs

Firming up what all this means

Obesity and Family Medicine Specialist, Dr Kyle Gillett suggests that:

Doing a little amount of lifestyle interventions over a long period of time is far more helpful or efficacious than doing a lot and then doing nothing.

A fertility coach is specifically trained to provide the guidance needed to develop lasting lifestyle changes. These include selecting the right carbohydrates, i.e., those that are digested slowly and prevent sudden bursts of insulin; assisting with a safe intermittent fasting window, and developing a movement plan that targets hormone regulation. All these changes are vital for the periods before, during and after pregnancy.

Taking a step towards healthy lifestyle interventions

Research has confirmed that recurring high blood sugar and circulating insulin have a negative impact on fertility in otherwise healthy women. Lasting lifestyle interventions, such as regular resistance training, selecting slow-release carbohydrates and opting to stretch out the fasting window, can have a significantly positive influence on our chances of a successful fertility outcome.

Tarri Gavson is a US Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach specialising in Integrative Fertility. She is contactable on tarri@unfurljourney.com

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