The benefits of exercising/being active when trying to conceive

Exercising/being active before you get pregnant and during pregnancy benefits your pregnancy and baby.

Being active and spending less time sitting down (known as being sedentary) can help with getting pregnant, pregnancy and mental wellbeing.

On this page

Exercise/physical activity and fertility

Exercise/being active can boost your fertility (the ability to get pregnant). Women who do regular, moderate exercise get pregnant quicker than women who don’t exercise regularly.

It doesn’t have to be an exercise class in the gym, it means any activity that will

  • raise your heart rate
  • make you breathe faster
  • make you feel warmer.

You should still be able to talk without pausing for breath. Walking briskly, for example, counts as moderate activity.

If you have a high BMI and are not getting pregnant as soon as you expected, intense exercise may improve your fertility as it will help you lose weight.

If you regularly do intense vigorous exercise, read more here.   

Exercise/physical activity and pregnancy

Being active by doing regular moderate exercise before and after you get pregnant will help you have a healthy pregnancy and birth.  Research has shown that being active before and during early pregnancy can reduce your risk of having problems in pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia

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. It has also been shown that labour is easier for women who are active during pregnancy.

Reduced stress and anxiety

Planning to have a baby can be very exciting. It can also be an anxious time for both parents-to-be. You’re making plans for a huge change in your life. Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression  can be common in pregnancy.

Staying active can help to boost your mood and lessen your risk of stress and depression.

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. It may help for you and your partner to think about becoming active as part of your preparing to be parents.

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?

If you have always been moderately active

For most women, if you have always been active, continuing to exercise at the same level before (and during) pregnancy is safe and healthy. 

If you exercise vigorously on most days of the week

A small amount of women who exercise vigorously on most days of the week, such as competitive athletes, may be advised to cut their exercise to a moderate level if they are having problems getting pregnant

If you have not been active before

If you have not been active before, start to build up your level of activity now. The advice is to build up to:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles

or:

  • 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles

or:

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic exercise a week and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles

Moderate activity means any exercise that will raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and feel warmer. You should still be able to talk without pausing for breath.

Good examples include:

  • swimming
  • brisk walking
  • gardening
  • dancing.

Vigorous activity means any exercise that makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Good examples include:

  • race walking, jogging or running
  • aerobics
  • singles tennis.

Examples of muscle-strengthening exercises include:

  • lifting weights
  • working with resistance bands
  • push ups or sit ups
  • yoga
  • pilates.

To get the health benefits from strength exercises you should do them until you get to the point where you struggle to do any more. 

5 Tips for being active

1 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 regularly
  • taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator.

2 Try an app, such as Couch to 5k or Active 10

These NHS apps help thousands of people who never thought they could be active to start on the road to fitness.

3 Head to the park in your lunch break

If there is one near you. If not, havea walk. Don’t spend your lunchtime sitting down at your desk if possible.

4 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.

5 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 infertility

Exercise and low BMI

If your BMI is below 18.5 your weight may be too low. 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.

Vigorous activity means any exercise that makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

Losing too much body fat through vigorous exercise may stop you ovulating (releasing eggs) and this could cause fertility problems. There are also health risks during pregnancy of having a low BMI

If you have been struggling 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

Vigorous exercise and fertility 

Most women who are used to vigorous, intense exercise are not affected by infertility and are fine to continue their level of exercise through getting pregnant, pregnancy and beyond. However, a few women who have a low or healthy BMI and do vigorous, intense exercise on most days, such as elite athletes, are affected by infertility. This is more likely to be the case if you are not not having regular periods.

This may be because the stress that intense physical activity places on the body can affect the hormones responsible for your periods. This can cause:

  • irregular periods (also known as oligomenorrhoea)
  • stopped or missed periods (also known as amenorrhoea).

If you exercise at vigorous intensity and 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 to replace the energy used during exercise.

Talk to your GP if you have been trying for a year, or six months if you are not having periods. You may be referred to a specialist if you need any tests or treatment.

When to see your GP about exercise and fertility

Talk to your GP if you want to have a baby but are concerned about exercise and the effects on your menstrual cycle or your fertility.    

Exercise and IVF

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 conceive 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.

Men and exercise

There is not enough evidence to show that lots of exercise causes male infertility. If your partner is concerned about fertility, he may be advised to do less exercise if he is extremely active but there are probably other factors that are more likely to be behind the problem.

It’s still important that your partner exercises regularly. Anyone who isn’t active is more likely to be overweight. In men, being overweight can affect the quality and quantity of their sperm.

You and your partner may both find it helpful to support each other to lead a healthier lifestyle as you prepare to have a baby together.

Find out more about men and pre-conception health.

Are you ready to conceive? Use our tool to find out.

Sources

1. Wise, Lauren et al, (2012) A prospective cohort study of physical activity and time to pregnancy, Fertility and Sterility, https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(12)00259-2/fulltext

2. NHS Choices (accessed 01.04.2018) Physical activity guidelines for adults, Page last reviewed: 30/05/2018 Next review due: 30/05/2021. https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults.aspx#moderate

3. Wise LA, Rothman KJ, Mikkelsen EM, Sørensen HT, Riis AH, Hatch EE. A prospective cohort study of physical activity and time to pregnancy. Fertil Steril 2012, 97 (5):1136-1142.e1131-1134.

4. Clinical Knowledge Summaries (Aug 2017) Pre-conception advice and management https://cks.nice.org.uk/pre-conception-advice-and-management

5. Tobias, D.K., et al., Physical activity before and during pregnancy and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care, 2011. 34(1): p. 223-9.

6. Aune, D., et al., Physical activity and the risk of preeclampsia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology, 2014. 25(3): p. 331-43

7. Melzer, K., Schutz, Y., Boulvain, M., & Kayser, B. (2010). Physical Activity and Pregnancy: Cardiovascular Adaptations, Recommendations and Pregnancy Outcomes. Sports Medicine, 40(6), 493-507.

8. National Institute for Health Research (2017) Better beginnings Improving health for pregnancy https://www.dc.nihr.ac.uk/themed-reviews/health-in-pregnancy-research.htm

9. NHS Choices (accessed 01/04/2018) Benefits of Exercise, Page last reviewed: 13/07/2015 Next review due: 13/07/2018.  https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/pages/whybeactive.aspx

10. Cleland V, Granados A, Crawford D, Winzenberg T, Ball K. Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity among socioeconomically disadvantaged women: a systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2013;14(3):197-212.

11. NHS Choices (accessed 01.04.2018) Underweight Adults, Page last reviewed: 31/05/2017 Next review due: 30/05/2020.  www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Underweightadults.aspx

12. NHS Choices (accessed 01.04.2018) Stopped or missed periods, Page last reviewed: 28/07/2016 Next review due: 28/07/2019.  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stopped-or-missed-periods/

13. Olive, David L Exercise and fertility: an update, Current Opinion in Obstetrics and Gynecology Volume 22(4), August 2010, p 259–26

14. NHS Choices (accessed 01.04.18) How can I improve my chances of becoming a dad? Page last reviewed: 24/07/2017 Next review due: 24/07/2020. https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/1909.aspx?CategoryID=61&SubCategoryID=613

Hide details

Last reviewed on June 5th, 2018. Next review date June 5th, 2021.

Was this information useful?

Yes No

Comments

Your comment

Add new comment