Does exercise help you get pregnant (conceive)?
Staying active can improve your fertility and help you get pregnant. Women and birthing people who do regular, moderate exercise get pregnant quicker than those who do not exercise regularly.
Moderate activity means any exercise that will:
- raise your heart rate
- make you breathe faster
- make you feel warmer.
You should still be able to talk, but not sing when doing moderate activity. Examples, include brisk walking or riding a bike.
Exercising to maintain a healthy weight
The ideal body mass index (BMI) for getting pregnant is between 18.5 and 24.9. This is known as the healthy range. Having a high BMI or a low BMI can reduce your chances of getting pregnant.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and staying active will help you maintain a healthy weight.
Exercising to boost your mood
Exercise is a good way to improve your mental wellbeing and reduce stress.
There is not enough evidence to suggest that stress alone can cause infertility. But if you are trying to get pregnant it is important to look after your mental wellbeing and try to reduce stress.
Stress can impact on our health and day to day life. For example, stress (or anxiety and depression) can contribute to a low sex drive and irregular periods.
Exercise won’t make stress disappear, but it can help to improve your mood.
It is important to look after your emotional health as well as your physical health while you are trying to get pregnant. Find out more about planning a pregnancy and managing your mental health.
Exercise/physical activity and pregnancy
Staying active before and after you get pregnant will help you have a healthy pregnancy and birth.
Exercising in pregnancy can help:
- reduce high blood pressure problems
- prevent gestational diabetes
- improve your sleep
- maintain a healthy weight.
Staying strong and ready for labour
Pregnancy puts strain on the body. You may find it easier to cope with if you are fit, strong and flexible. Research shows that labour is easier for women who are active during pregnancy.
Health benefits for baby
Staying active will also benefit your child’s long-term health. Women who are active are more likely to have children who are active too.
Think about what kind of activity you’d like to do when you become pregnant and when your baby arrives and start doing it now. For example, it could be walking in the park or going swimming.
You don’t have to join expensive gyms or follow a strict exercise plan. It’s about focusing on ways to make activity part of everyday life.
How much exercise should I be doing?
It’s important to make sure your activity and its intensity are the right level for you
Generally, adults should aim to:
- do strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) at least 2 days a week
- do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week
- spread exercise evenly over 4 to 5 days a week, or every day
- reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.13
- You can also meet your weekly target with:
- several short sessions of very vigorous intensity activity
- a mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity.
Speak to your GP first if:
- you haven’t exercised for a while
- you have any medical conditions
- you have any worries about your health.
Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing.
Examples of moderate intensity activities include:
- brisk walking
- riding a bike
- doubles tennis
Vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Examples of vigorous activities include:
- walking up the stairs
- team sport such as football, rugby, netball and hockey
For a moderate to vigorous workout, get running with Couch to 5K, a 9-week running plan for beginners that has been used by many people to successfully start exercising.
Very vigorous activities
Very vigorous activities are exercises performed in short bursts of highest effort broken up with rest.
This type of exercise is also known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Examples of very vigorous activities include:
- lifting heavy weights
- circuit training
- interval running
- spinning classes.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:
- carrying heavy shopping bags
- lifting weights
- working with resistance bands
- doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups
- lifting and carrying children.
Is there such a thing as too much exercise when trying to get pregnant?
It is safe to keep up your normal daily activity or exercise before and during pregnancy, as long as you feel comfortable.
But you do not need to do any more exercise than the recommended amount to stay healthy. Try not to do more than you are able to and do not exhaust yourself.
Doing too much exercise can cause:
- depression and anxiety
- weight loss (becoming underweight may affect your fertility)
- trouble sleeping.
Speak to your GP if you are exercising too much and are worried you cannot stop, or if you are not having periods. Exercising too can be a symptom of a mental health issue, such as an eating disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.
You may need treatment, such as counselling. This may be difficult, but it is important to ask for support now, before you get pregnant. This will help make sure you are as healthy as possible during a pregnancy.
Exercises to avoid while trying to get pregnant (conceive)
There are no exercises that you should avoid while you are trying to get pregnant. But it is important to not put too much stress on your body because this can have an affect on your hormones. (see below)
Exercise and low BMI
If your BMI is below 18.5 your weight may be too low, which can cause fertility problems.
There are many reasons why a person may be underweight. One reason could be exercising too often or too vigorously and not taking in enough calories to replace energy used in exercise.
If you have been struggling to get pregnant and/or do not have regular periods it may help to bring down your level of activity to a moderate level as well as making sure you eat enough food to replace the energy used during exercise.
Tips for being active
Avoid sitting down as much as possible
Cut down the amount of time you spend sitting down (being sedentary). You could try:
- walking or cycling to work
- standing on the bus or train, or getting off a stop earlier
- walking to a co-workers desk instead of emailing or calling
- setting a reminder on your phone to stand up and move every 30 minutes during the day
- taking the stairs instead of the lift
- stand or walk around when on the phone.
Try an app, such as Couch to 5k or Active 10
These apps help many people who never thought they could be active to start on the road to fitness.
Leave for lunch
Don’t spend your lunchtime sitting down at your desk if possible. Go for a walk or NHS has a 10-minute cardio workout you can do at home.
If you have other children, walk them to school, nursery or toddler group if it’s not too far.
Turning something that happens every day into a physical activity is a brilliant way to get more active. And it will keep your children fit too.
Get a step-counting app on your phone.
By counting your steps and giving little rewards they show you how much you are doing and help with motivation.
Exercise and your periods
Intense physical activity can put stress on the body and affect the hormones responsible for your periods.
You may need to reduce your level of activity if excessive exercise has caused your periods to stop.
If you're a professional athlete, you may benefit from seeing a doctor who specialises in sports medicine. They'll be able to give you advice about how to maintain your performance without disrupting your periods.
There are many reasons why your periods may be irregular or stop, such as having an overactive thyroid or polycystic ovary syndrome.
Your periods may also stop because you are pregnant.
See your GP if you're not pregnant – you've had a negative pregnancy test – and you've missed more than 3 periods in a row.
Exercise and IVF (assisted conception)
IVF is a type of fertility treatment. Generally the exercise advice for those having IVF treatment is the same as that for those trying to get pregnant without treatment.
Physical activity at a moderate level is safe and healthy and has not been shown to increase infertility. If you are having IVF treatment because you have problems with ovulation and you exercise at an intense or vigorous level your consultant may suggest cutting down to a moderate level instead during your treatment.
Male fertility and exercise
Regular exercise (alongside eating a healthy, balanced diet) will help men maintain a healthy weight. This is essential for keeping sperm in condition.
Find out more about how to improve male fertility.