Fitness & Fertility: Too Fit for Pregnancy?

We all know that exercise is good for the body; it promotes detoxification, digestion, circulation and overall health. If you’re a woman, you may have been told how important exercise is for hormonal balance and fertility health.

Yet, despite all of the benefits excising can have, it is also true that too much can be harmful. It is especially true for women seeking to become pregant that too much exercise is not helpful and may even lead to issues with fertility. 

This Universal Law of Diminishing Returns extends through all areas of life; too much of even a good thing can have negative effects. Therefore, our goal with exercise, which in Chinese Medicine, would be considered a Yang activity, must be balanced with equal Yin.

Before we get into exactly how to do that, that’s talk about how exactly excessive exercise and the relentless pursuit for that fitness model physique may be causing infertility in women today.

THE PROBLEMS OF OVEREXERCISING

I’ll being by saying that the problem of too much exercise is not one for many, simply because a large amount of people are not exercising enough and in particularly, not intensely enough.

I once heard a mystic breakdown health into a very simple phenomena; if you aren’t healthy then consider this, are you moving your body enough or too much? If you move your body a lot and are not healthy then the solution is simply; stop moving so much. On the other hand, if you are unwell and don’t move enough, then move more.

Ayurveda, TCM and other bodies of Eastern Medicine see that health and all of life can be broken down into the simple phenomena of In and Out, Cause and Effect, Yin and Yang, etc.

Today, most people are not simply using their bodies enough. Everything is done for them, they don’t need to cook, clean, hunt or gather food, they don’t need to do much of anything. In result of this failure to use the body, people are often overthinking, using their brains way too much, and stressed mentally to capacity.

This combination of lack of physical movement and an excess of mental and emotional activity leads to disease in the body because the body was designed to move instinctually, not to think so much. While ration, logic and reason can be incredibly helpful, it becomes obsolete in the presence of intuition, pure knowingness, feeling and instinctual movement.

In the words of Alan Watts, it appears the decline of man has come since the development of the neocortex, causing man to become TOO aware of himself, to the point of questioning anxiety, “am I doing this right, too much, not enough???”

Without further philosophical though on the subject, the take away is that everything in our human existence can be fundamentally simplified. The more complex we make things, the more difficult they are to manage and therefore, end up handling us. This is perfectly demonstrated through the subject of physical movement. Once upon a time, the most natural and intuitive experience, is now a dedicated field of science, study and even career. I am here to tell you, it is so much more simple than it has been made to be. In a few words, the secret to healthy exercise is balance.

So, the problems with exercise are really problems of imbalance; when exercise/movement becomes deficiency or excessive, we run into issues.

When your body is under too much stress of any sorts, it begins to shutdown. What many people fail to realize is that exercise is a form of stress. All stress can be defined as force, counter-force. 

When we engage in “working out”, we are welcoming stress, that is the whole goal, to have another force counter our own force and effort. This is the anatomy of resistance, two opposing forces of equal mass. Placing a heavy weight on your shoulders and squatting is an example of a force countering your effort. This resistance or stress, helps the muscle build strength and resilience.

The problem arises due to the fact that the muscular-skeletal system isn’t the thing that experiences stress, the nervous system responds as well. When the body undergoes stress, resistance of pressure, the CNS (central nervous system), goes into a sympathetic state and secretes stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and others to overcome the stress. This is helpful only to the point that the nervous system isn’t already overly sympathetic.

However, most people’s nervous systems are already overly sympathetic. Going back to a previous statement, a majority of people today have a nervous system that is hyperactive due to a large list of social pressures, along with mental and emotional stressors. Add in the variety of other stressors including dietary stress (wrong diet, or diet laden with toxins), heavy metals in the water, drugs and medications, electromagnetic stress, thermal stressors, and sleep deprivation induced stress, and what we have is a highly stressed out nervous system.

While normally intense physical activity would help build the body’s resilience to stress, in the case that the nervous system is already firing off large amounts of stress hormones, the additional physical activity only adds to the overall stress load.

So, add up the many ways people experience chronic stress today with the additional stress of exercise, which is further worsened if you’re not eating enough or the right foods to compensate for all the energy being used up to manage the stress responses and you have a recipe for fatigue and infertility. Essentially, in the case of chronic stress (non-stop stress compared to a healthy balance of stress) and your brain is going to figure that it is not a good time to have a baby.

When the body is in a chronic sympathetic state, as is the case when one is chronically stressed (excessively Yang) the body secretes only stress/yang hormones. These hormones are helpful when secreted at the appropriate times. For example, stress hormones cortisol are anti-inflammatory, they help promote healing. Norepinephrine is a fat-burning hormone. But when they are being chronically secreted, they have a negative effect on other hormones, especially reproductive hormones.

Remember, hormones are chemical messages, they are chemical expressions of consciousness. When your body is in a constant sympathetic state it is secreting hormones that tell the brain “we’re busy right now, we need a lot of free energy so shut down digestion, reproduction and anything else using energy so we can fight and survive.” And that is exactly what happens.

To summarize, you’ll know if you are pushing the body too far, you’ll be missing periods, a condition known as amenorrhea, you’ll start to demonstrate symptoms of excessive cortisol production and classic signs of hyperthyroidism (Yang excess). Over time, your hypothalamus will stop communicating to the ovaries to produce sufficient amounts of progestrogrone, DHEA and estrogen that’s necessary for menstruation and ovulation. These are tell-tale signs of potential infertility, and can have long-term health consequences, such as PCOS, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, osteoporosis and even cardiovascular disease due to the chronic inflammation one will experience from excessive exercise, adrenal burn out (low cortisol production) and hypothyroidism.

So, it is not exercise itself that causes infertility, healthy exercise (which we will define and discuss later) is one of the best things you can do for your health. Infertility is a symptom of excessive stress of any sort (exercise being just one form), overtraining and under eating, being significantly underweight or overweight, a broken digestive system and metabolism (a symptom of too much stress) and other factors, all of which can be traced back to excessive activity that leads to chronic inflammation in the body.

Fertility & Exercise

Just to be clear, a recent study on fertility and exercise points out the obvious underlying issues of imbalance. They study two things:

  • Women who were overweight or obese, found that increased physical activity and exercise improved fertility. 1
  • Women or ‘normal’ weight or underweight found that increased vigorous exercise (especially cardiovascular activity) decreased fertility and led to delays in becoming pregnant. 2

This information is really nothing new; it has been known for a while that strenuous exercise causes disruption to a woman’s menstrual cycle, and can even cause women to completely lack ovulation and menses, giving rise to many fertility problems.

This is the most common amongst female athletes who engage in competitive sport, long-distance running, triathletes and marathon runners. The common denominator in all of these; excessive, chronic cardiovascular activity, which leads to chronic inflammation.

Aside from causing hormonal havoc due to chronically elevated stress hormone and HPA burnout, it is suggested that high-intensity exercise disturbs implantation (when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterus).

However, on the other hand, balanced, moderate exercise, executed according to one’s personal stress load can improve menstruation, fertility, and the chances of becoming pregnant.

In conclusion, given the stressful nature of very vigorous exercise, which I define as long-distance running, fast cycling, swimming, and jogging for more than five hours a week, it is best for everyone to avoid these types of exercises that are known to cause elevated cortisol production, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalance and eventually infertility.

However, in the case that you are a woman who is overweight and greatly lacking in any sort of physical activity, it is imperative to increase your level of physical activity to improve fertility health. Just keep in mind that less is more when it comes to exercise and you do not need to kill yourself exercising trying to lose weight.

WHY LESS IS MORE

Despite the “no pain, no gain” myth, you do not need to spend as much time exercising as you were told. When it comes to exercise, like most other things, it is a matter of quality over quantity.

As we have covered in detail; exercise is  a stress and therefore, we want to keep that window of stress hormone production to a minimum. This will help us increase our adaptability and resilience to stress without overproducing stress hormone and weakening our immunity.

So long as you are willing to in authentic vigorous effort when you do exercise, you will reap more benefits within a shorter time span.

The reason for this is simple; the longer you workout, the most stress hormones your body produces and the more lactic acid your body produces, which your kidneys and liver have to eliminate. Eventually, in the case of too much exercise, you hit a line of diminishing returns. This is a point in which you’ve gone beyond the balance of give and take. Exercise is supposed to give us energy to withstand stress, at the expense of some of our own energy. This is how the universe works, and this is how our metabolic system works; you gotta give some to get some. 

When you over do this; such in the case of overeating, oversleeping or over exercising, you run into obvious negative consequences.

On the other hand, when you exercise to the point of increased energy, such as in the case of high-intensity interval training, super slow eccentric strength training, vigorous dancing, or other exercises were you give your full and complete effort 20 minutes, on and off, you reap reward.

These types of exercises dramatically cut down on your exercise time, reduce the production of stress hormones while maximizing the release of HGH (human growth hormone), testosterone (anabolic, fat-burning, muscle building, sex hormone) and other youth hormones. 3

This is simply the result and reward of using your body as it was designed to be used.

ACHIEVING EXERCISE BALANCE

For those of you who desire to embark on one of the most honorable, respectable and divine abilities of woman and become pregnant, I deeply admire your courage. For those of you who enjoy routine exercise and physical training but wish to avoid the potential negative consequences, here are some smart tips to help you do both:

1. Avoid Over-training & Under-eating: A 135-pound female with 20 to 25 percent body fat who is training with high intensity daily needs to eat a minimum of 1900 to 2000 calories a day to maintain fertility. The thyroid plays a huge role in fertility health and exercising without eating enough can lead to sluggish thyroid production. To avoid this, make sure your diet has adequate levels of healthy fat and protein. Also, be sure to get in more carbohydrates than usual when exercising, you’ll need them for thyroid function. Just make sure you go easy on fiber, which in excessive amounts can interfere with ovulation. Some of the best carb sources include organic sweet potatoes, cassava, burro banana, organic white rice, authentic wild rice, homemade sourdough bread, and organic berries.

2. Get Enough Rest & Sleep: Ultimately, we must balance Yang with Yin. If you are going to train hard or exercise frequently, then you need to make sure you rest and recover equally. Sleep is the single most restorative activity we can engage it; nothing promotes such a deep state of homeostasis and self-repair like quality REM sleep. It is through proper sleep, at the correct times (10-4am especially), that our body secretes HGH hormone, self-repair enzymes and goes through the process of physical and neurological regeneration.

So, if you wish to engage in daily and routine exercise because you love it, then you should know just as much about sleep as you do exercise. A good place to start is by reading this blog post. If you are doing any of these things before bed, you’re ruining your results.

3. Exercise in Intervals: Apply high-intensity interval training and Peak Fitness exercises to all of your intense workouts. When done properly, it will trigger the release of human growth hormone (HGH), also known as “the fitness hormone,” or “youth hormone”, which accounts for graceful aging, healthy recovery and more. 

Overall, be honest and aware of your current fitness level and stress levels. Remember, the take away from this post is don’t overdo it! This is especially true for when you first start out. Also keep in mind that success is measured by the individual, based on your current level of fitness, health and stress load (balance of Yin and Yang activity.) If you are overweight, have adrenal and thyroid issues and are generally overly stress, you might reach their anabolic threshold by walking. Others may need to perform sprints and heavy lifting to get the same effect.

The key indicator of a healthy, effective workout is going to be gauged by how you feel after. Despite myth, never workout until you are exhausted, this will lead to the depletion of your Jing and further stress. End your workouts once you have gained new energy. This will ensure you put in enough effort without overdoing it.

The reason this type of training works and is used amongst Olympic Gymnasts is due to the fact that it mimics how our ancestors lived and how animals live in the wild. Remember, our bodies are ex-wild animals, the body is a biological being, it is made up of bacteria just like wild animals. This is also how children behave; they do not “workout” they move vigorously, intuitively and completely balanced by spontaneous naps and frequent leisure. Exercising in these short bursts of explosive activity, rather than running, jogging or moving at a constant low-level rate, will promote optimum health and avoid the damaging effects of chronic stress. That being said, workout in this fashion about two to three times a week or even better, when you actually have the energy to workout – never working “out” when you do not have the internal, authentic energy to do so. Never force yourself.

For a side note: if you are seeking to get pregnant, keep in mind that you will need slightly higher body fat stores to be in the optimal range of health! Reproductive hormones are comprised of FAT and cholesterol, you need fat to produce healthy hormones.

WHAT TO EAT POST-WORKOUT TO OPTIMIZE FERTILITY

Nutrition is one of the most important factors in good health and can either improve or destroy your fitness results. In fact, in a hierarchy, before fitness and movement, stress levels, sleep, and right nutrition precede movement.

One tip is to avoid consuming fructose after you exercise. Yes, avoid fruit. While most bodybuilders and athletes will tell you to eat carbs post workout to replenish glycogen, it is not smart to eat fruit, which contains fructose. Consuming fructose after a workout will increase production of the hormone somatostatin, a primary purpose of which is to inhibit the production of HGH.

Increasing HGH through high-intensity interval exercise is an important factor for optimizing health, longevity and fertility. Therefore, I suggest you avoid refined sugar and fructose before and especially after workouts.

If you are seeking to optimize your fertility then consuming some carbs, will be wise. However, preferably make those carbs dextrose-based, which are high-starch foods that are quickly broken down into dextrose by the natural functions of the body. These include foods like potatoes and white rice. Ideally, cook and cool your starches to develop prebiotic, resistant starch that will digest more efficiently in the body. To save time, you can add Prebiotic+ to a post workout shake. This is one of my favorite products by Natural Stacks.

OTHER TIPS FOR OPTIMIZING FERTILITY

It is estimated that 1 in 6 American couples struggle to get pregnant, and I will say right now the this is on behalf of both sexes. Sperm quality and quantity has significantly dropped in the last 10 years due to estrogen mimicking substances in the food, air, water and environment, amongst other factors. With that being said, I could not recommend enough that anyone seeking to become pregnant read the book Brighton Baby Method. It is one of the most informative books I have ever read, and I have read over 2,000…

So, with fertility decreasing each year and birth defects rapidly rising, there’s something very obvious and apparent that is wrong. This is key evidence that our lifestyles, diets and environments are becoming highly unnatural. After all, birth is one of the most natural phenomenon of all.

Not only are we exposed thousands of toxins each and every day, but most people consume prescribed drugs, eat foods that shouldn’t be allowed to be called food, 80% of people have digestive systems that don’t work, leading to nutrient deficiencies linked to reduced fertility, most people have endocrine imbalances, hormonal problems, not to mention are mentally and emotionally stressed due to unfurling jobs, relationships and are generally struggling to survive in a world that might very well be designed to be an unhappy place. All these things together equate to a recipe for ill health and infertility. 

Because our health and wellness is built upon the effortless communication throughout the body, with our selves, others and the entire universe, we cannot rely on conventional treatments that do not address these root causes of infertility.

These root causes include the things I just mentioned, which make up the wholeness of a person, they are things like: nutritional deficiencies, toxin exposure, chronic stress, food intolerances, allergies, digestive problems, liver congestion, immune deficiencies, mental and emotional turmoil and more.

These critical factors are the foreground for life and therefore effect the quality of your eggs and sperm, and your overall ability to conceive, reproduce and give life to a new being. It is simple, our off spring are made of us; not just our sperm and eggs. Our reproductive fluids, glands, and organs are just parts of the whole. If we are not healthy overall, how can we expect to give life to a healthy being? Which brings us to a final fact, fertility IS health. However, in the Western World, we have cut everything into specialized fragments to the point that we have someone bought into an idea that we could be healthy and infertile. But the truth is, the level of our fertility health is in direct proportion to the level and quality of our overall health.

To be specific, during the generation and maturation of gamete cells (sperm and ovum) that produce an embryo, everything that you and your partner are form that embryo. That includes everything ingest, inhale, are exposed to and even think and feel will make up and determine the health of your eggs and sperm that will ultimate determine the quality of the raw genetic materials that are passed onto your child.

Therefore, it is of upmost importance that you prepare way ahead of time. Mot people falsely think that the time of healthy changes come once they conceive and are pregnant. however, everything that you are is a result of everything you have been and done for years prior. Hence the importance of following an intelligent preconception plan for a minimum of 1-3 years before conception. Remember, your future baby is a 50-50 product of you and your partner; so the question is, what are you two made of?

While I ultimately recommend reading the book Brighton Baby for a much more in-depth protocol, and for the sake of brevity in this post keep this post. here are some holistic tips to consider for optimizing your fertility health:

  • Optimize your vitamin D levels: Thyroid function is a major determining factor in fertility health and a healthy child. One of the key nutrients for thyroid function is vitamin D3. Vitamin D effects fertility in multiple ways, it improves the balance of progesterone and estrogen in women, which helps regulate menstrual cycles and improves your likelihood of conception. In men, vitamin D is essential for the healthy development of sperm cells. It improves semen quality and sperm quantity and motility. Vitamin D also helps raise healthy testosterone levels. I recommend getting this vitamin the safe way with optimal sun exposure. Supplementing without the proper balance of K2 and vitamin. To learn more about the benefits of Sun, read this post. 
  • Avoid GMOs: These “non-foods” not only are non-compatible for the human metabolic system, they contain significant concentrations of the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, which is known to cause infertility, androgyny and other issues of the reproductive system. The top GMO foods include wheat, sugar beets, corn, soy, zucchini, papaya, cotton and canola. Buy organic or better yet, befriend or become a farmer.
  • Avoid the Toxic Chemicals: Our environment is becoming increasingly toxic, many common household products contain estrogen-mimicking compounds like Bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, fluoride (in drinking water), MSG, and many, many others, all which are known to negative impacts on your reproductive health.
  • Consume a Wholesome Diet: In short, you want a diet that is 100% organic and homegrown. Make sure it features mostly low-carb veggies, rich in antioxidants, along with healthy animal protein and fats and generally low in sugar and grains. Avoid all industrial animal products (meat, eggs, dairy, and fish), which are heavily contaminated with endocrine disruptors, PCBs and mercury. Instead, only eat locally raised, organic and pastured meat, dairy and eggs. Choose wild-caught cold-water fish like salmon, sardines and anchovy, which contain little to no mercury.  I recommend supplementing with a high-quality purified fish or krill oil. Make your diet 50% raw, mostly your meat, dairy and eggs being raw. Be sure to cook all cruciferous veggies and generally eat a diet that is warming. Soups and bone broths are fantastic foods, they warm the womb and bring in reproductive fluids. I recommend the dietary principles of Sri Lankan tradition.
  • Eliminate Food Intolerances: Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and other food intolerances have linked to fertility problems in both sexes. In men, consuming foods you are intolerant to can cause abnormal sperm, lower sperm numbers, altered shape, and reduced function. Men with untreated celiac disease usually have lower testosterone levels. In general, consuming foods you are intolerant too will cause chronic inflammation and immune hyperactivity. Take a food allergy test or IGF test to determine food intolerance or try an elimination diet. The foods that cause the most issues are eggs, dairy, nuts/seeds, legumes and nightshades.
  • Reduce EMF exposure: Recent research suggests that cell phones and laptop use on the lap can negatively impact sperm quality. EMFs are electromagnetic fields that essentially fry the sperm cells and mutate DNA. Eliminate use of these things, keep use to a minimum of 2 hours a day and spend plenty of time outdoors! Also, switch all lightbulbs to full spectrum and shut off Wifi at night.

Final Considerations

Let us look to the wisdom of ancient Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan people. In nature, pregnancy and womb man body is nurturing, warming, holding and embracing. All beautiful qualities that can be and often are lost and in today’s Western World.

It seems through social engineering, programming and media women have began to fear a natural, “womanly” shape. I personally blame Instagram, Hollywood and the modeling Industry. In my opinion, the glorification of fitness models, celebrities and “stars” is an invalidation to the “normal” person. If we keep giving praise to these people, how can we ever see and recognize the satisfaction and gratitude for our own lives?

To each their own, we all have the right to be, do or have whatever we please. However, there is an obvious sense of inferiority that many women feel by comparing themselves to photoshopped images of women who spend their entire lives dieting, exercising for the sole purpose of looking good in a photo.

All in all, the relentless pursuit of the fitness model physique may be aesthetically pleasing to some portion of the brain, but it is an unnatural form, which may very well cause physical complications within the abdominal wall and womb.

For women, the womb is the source and end of all Qi (vitality) in the body. This tells me that the womb is an area of delicacy and strength. It needs to be treated with respect, not force.

My wish is that women reading this can at the least see that comparing their bodies to images that are false is a sure way to create suffering. Also, that their bodies as is, are completely beautiful. Both men and women need a value adjustment; away from vanity (rooted in insecurity) and toward the creation of wholesome LIFE to come, rooted in healthy, vitality and nature.