Good health and physical fitness are natural assets for any woman undergoing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment. Studies have shown that a healthy BMI has a positive effect on IVF success. When you are doing everything you can in your quest to have a baby, you want to maximize your chances, so it’s natural to wonder if exercise should be a part of your IVF routine. You may be surprised to learn that the answer is not an unqualified yes. Consulting with your doctor is the best way to determine what level of activity you should pursue during your cycle, but current research suggests that patients going through IVF should keep their exercise habits in a low-impact zone.
Should I restrict physical activity during an IVF cycle?
The most important thing to know is that as you prepare for the egg retrieval process, the medications you will take to stimulate ovulation will cause your ovaries to enlarge as the follicles in each ovary grow. You need to protect your ovaries during this sensitive time and avoid strenuous training. High-intensity or high impact exercise puts your entire body under physical stress, which can compromise your body’s ability to respond to treatment. Your IVF cycle is not a time to push any limitations: the physical and emotional demands of treatment require a special level of self-care, and you want to reduce stress of all types, not induce it. Over-exertion is your enemy here. Running and intense biking are too hard on your body during this time, and lifting heavy weights is dangerous. Popular “extreme” fitness classes such as spin classes, interval training, etc. are not appropriate for IVF patients. These restrictions remain in effect until the pregnancy test at the end of your IVF cycle. If you become pregnant, they will remain in place for longer.
What kind of exercise is allowed?
There is no reason for a complete restriction on physical activity during IVF. For many women, exercise is a stress relief strategy. Undergoing IVF is a naturally stressful process, and it is important to use all of your resources to reduce anxiety and tension. However, you should keep your exercise routine to a low-impact maximum during the cycle. If you are concerned about your health during this time, your priorities should be eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and taking mindful care of your body. When you do crave activity, keep it gentle. Walks or slow, low-impact sessions spent on a stationary bike or elliptical machine are a good strategy. Gentle stretching and restorative yoga are perfect ways to nurture your body, but avoid strenuous classes such as power yoga or Bikram/hot yoga.
If you don’t feel like exercising, give yourself a break. This time is a chance to take it easy and plan for the big life changes that may be up ahead. Some women undergoing the preparations for an IVF cycle naturally feel less inclined to exercise. The side-effects of IVF medication can include fatigue, headaches, bloating, or nausea. This is a clear message from your body to slow down and be gentle with yourself: you should not attempt to “push through” these symptoms in order to exercise.
What are the risks associated with exercise and IVF cycles?
Evidence has shown that rigorous physical exercise can have a negative effect in IVF success. Research studies have examined the relationship between exercise and IVF treatment outcomes, and one study, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, found a direct correlation between strenuous physical activity (particularly intense cardiovascular exercise) and negative IVF outcomes. The women in the study, who exercised up to four hours a week and had done so for up to nine years previously, were 40 percent less likely to have successful IVF treatment than women who didn’t exercise. Women in the study who had followed a rigorous exercise regime for over 10 years fared better, perhaps because their bodies had built up protection over that time. However, the findings from this and other studies show that “better safe than sorry” is a good policy for exercise during IVF.
- Excessive exercise can tax the reproductive system and alter your normal hormone patterns. At a time when you are introducing hormonal medications to control ovulation, this can decrease their effectiveness
- Risk of ovarian torsion. Ovarian torsion is an extremely painful and dangerous condition where the ovary twists. This requires surgery to correct and may cause permanent ovarian damage or even loss of the ovary.
Other activities to avoid
Another reason why strenuous exercise is contraindicated in IVF is that any elevation of your core body temperature can put you at risk for a miscarriage. Running, lifting, or any activity that makes you sweat is too strenuous. If the weather is hot, walk inside on a treadmill, or go outside only during the cooler hours of the early morning or late evening. Extreme heat such as baths, a hot tub, Jacuzzi, hot yoga or steam rooms and saunas are a bad idea. In fact, you should avoid swimming or sitting in water entirely during this time, even if it is not hot. Swimming or bathing leaves you exposed to bacteria, infection, and potentially dangerous chemicals in chlorine.
For many women, the idea of giving up their hard-won fitness routine isn’t easy, but with IVF the potential rewards are worth it. Talk to your doctor about the kinds of exercise that are right for you during this time, and most of all, remember to be kind to yourself. Your body is already working extremely hard during your IVF cycle, so take the time to acknowledge yourself for that. Your focus should be on creating a healthy lifestyle to support that work, with plenty of good food, rest, and gentle exercise like walking. Avoiding rigorous activity during stimulation and throughout your IVF cycle is one more way to increase your chances of success.