While parenthood is a part of many people’s life plan, it's becoming a goal that a large number of people put off until later in life. Unfortunately, many people find that, once they are ready to pursue parenthood (no matter their age), they face unforeseen fertility issues and turn to IVF. We guide our New Orleans fertility patients through all aspects of this treatment. One of the most common questions we receive is about IVF exercise safety and tips that can help them stay healthy and active while avoiding any unnecessary risks. Here's what you should know about exercise during IVF and five tips to follow to help boost your chances of pregnancy success.
Why do I have to worry about exercise during IVF?
At The Fertility Institute of New Orleans, we offer a range of fertility treatments to aid couples in the pursuit of pregnancy. One of our most popular and successful options is in vitro fertilization (or IVF).
In vitro fertilization is a multi-step treatment that helps you throughout the different stages of conception—from fertilization and beyond. We know that in order to increase your chances of success, it's important to think of IVF in terms of your whole, healthy body working together to achieve pregnancy.
And when it comes to health, many patients immediately assume that exercise is always helpful. That's what you've always been told, right? But, that's not quite the case when it comes to IVF. Some mild to moderate exercise may be beneficial, but many patients may actually have to modify or reduce the amount of exercise they do during IVF.
The research into IVF exercise
One of the largest studies into exercise during IVF took a sample of 2,232 patients who were undergoing their first cycle of IVF. They found that those who did exercise regularly were no more likely to have a live birth than those who did not report exercise. They also found that regular exercise before in vitro fertilization may actually negatively affect outcomes in some cases.
They found that women who exercised four hours or more per week (compared to those who did not exercise) were:
- 40% less likely to have a live birth
- Three times more likely to experience cycle cancellation
- Twice as likely to have an implantation failure or pregnancy loss
According to the study, women who participated in cardiovascular exercise has a 30% lower chance of a successful birth.
You may be worried about your weight before starting IVF. We do counsel patients to reach a healthy weight before IVF, but it may not have as significant of an impact on IVF success as previously thought. When it comes to body mass index, a 2017 study demonstrated that a patient's BMI did not a have a significant impact on IVF success. We do, however, know that an overweight or obese BMI may lead to pregnancy complications, like preeclampsia and post-term pregnancy.
Exercise and IVF: The 5 basics you should know
Exercise and healthy nutrition are important factors that contribute to a person’s overall health and well-being. Of course, it is ideal to take care of your physical health and reduce overall BMI to have a healthier pregnancy.
While mild to moderate exercise is acceptable during IVF treatment, patients should be careful about what types of exercises they perform. In general, you should follow these exercise during IVF basics:
- Work within your own comfort zone
- Avoid high impact cardiovascular exercise
- Opt out of exercise completely during certain IVF stages
- Do not exercise for more than four hours per week
- Focus on low-impact exercises that encourage stress relief
While these are good tips to start with, always make sure to work closely with your doctor. They'll know your unique case and can suggest the best approach to exercise during IVF for you.
1. Work within your own comfort zone
When considering IVF and exercise, patients should be careful to work within their own comfort zone. What does that mean?
For example, if you have not previously engaged in a strenuous exercise routine, do not start one before the IVF process begins. If you were already highly-active, you may continue with this in the early stages of IVF.
However, as noted, as treatment progresses (generally once injections begin), you should avoid high-impact and highly cardiovascular activities, as they can negatively affect your success rates.
2. Avoid high impact cardiovascular exercise
For some, it can be frustrating to change a long-standing exercise routine. However, it is important that you avoid it.
There are a few reasons to do so. The major reason that patients are asked to avoid high-impact exercises during the IVF treatment process is because it can lead to ovarian torsion. When undergoing IVF treatment, the ovaries become enlarged. With the impact of strenuous, aerobic exercises, such as running, it is possible that the enlarged ovaries will become twisted, which will complicate the IVF treatment process.
Further, any serious falls or injuries to your abdomen during high-intensity exercises could compromise your reproductive health.
We do know that cardiovascular exercise is important for the mental health of many of our patients. Because of this, we suggest some modified types of IVF exercise you can do a bit later in this post.
3. Opt out of exercise completely during certain IVF stages
At The Fertility Institute of New Orleans, Dr. Dickey notes:
"I advise patients to avoid exercise during the IVF cycle before eggs are retrieved and following embryo transfer for at least ten weeks. Exercising the large muscles in the arms and legs can draw blood away from the ovaries and uterus. For example, I had a patient who became pregnant after two failed IVF cycles when she stopped playing tennis five days a week in the two weeks before egg retrieval."
4. Do not exercise for more than four hours a week
The results in the 2006 Obstetrics & Gynecology study were clear: exercising for more than four hours a week could have a negative impact on your chances of IVF success.
Make it a rule not to exercise for more than this amount of time during IVF, and for even less time during certain stages of treatment. Instead of four, hour-long cardio sessions, plan three 30 minute sessions of some of the following exercises. Or, give your body the rest and attention it deserves during this time by focusing on meditative, relaxing exercises.
5. Focus on low-impact exercises that encourage stress relief
When it comes to IVF and exercise, you want to avoid large bodily movements that take blood away from the ovaries and uterus. For this reason, we recommend avoiding high-intensity interval training, abdominal exercises like crunches, or heavy weight-lifting.
Instead, the best exercises are meditative to help you through this stressful time, attuned to the breath, and low impact. Some types of IVF exercise that we recommend include:
- Yoga, especially prenatal yoga
- Tai Chi
- Use of light hand weights
- Water exercises, like water aerobics and low-intensity swimming
- Light stretching
You can also incorporate other stress-relieving practices into your life, like fertility massages, acupuncture, reading, crafts, or meditation.
While these exercises are generally considered safe throughout treatment, there may be certain times when your doctor asks you to refrain from exercise completely. Always follow their instructions, for IVF and exercise, exactly.