Does Exercise Affect My Fertility?

QUESTION

Dear Fitness Expert,
I have been trying to get pregnant for a year without success. My doctor just told me that I have a low LH hormone level and said the cause was my frequent endurance training (cycling and running). He told me to reduce my regime quite a bit.

I am wondering how long will it take for my LH level to increase (since I have not been exercising) and can you tell me what type of exercise program (ex. weight lifting, kayaking, swimming, roller blading) would be safe to replace my previous regime. I am very physically fit (and yes I do eat plenty) and feel stripped of an important routine in my life. Of course, having a baby is more important so that is why I've listened to my doctor thus far. Please help.

Julie

ANSWER

Hi Julie,
I saw this a lot while living at the Olympic Training Center. I know it is frustrating but I assure you, you are in excellent company with so many women in fabulous condition who are so lean it affected hormonal levels.

While your doctor is probably right, do not factor out genetics. For this reason, you need to focus on three aspects of your new exercise regimen --

  1. First, talk to a nutritionist. I am amazed how often we all overlook the role our diet plays in our lives. By meeting a (qualified) nutritionist, you can determine what and how you eat. Even seemingly small modifications in your diet can change the hormonal levels in your body. Yes, it's true.
  2. Second, let's take a look at your exercise routine. You do not have to stop what you love. We do need to change it up a bit, however, this is difficult for me to do as I do not know your routine. When you meet with a nutritionist, provide a very detailed exercise routine. The athletes I have dealt with often keep what they love but shave down the intensity (or times) and add in something else equally rewarding, challenging but less rigorous on the body. What is that? Tai Chi, Kung Fu... a form of martial arts that requires strength, stamina, dedication, power, agility and mental determination. Given your very brief description of what you do, this sounds like it could be a nice combination for you.
  3. During my last trimester of my second and third pregnancies, I had to level off my intensity (running, weight lifting) but found myself very restless without some physical challenge. I got back into martial arts. I continued to lift (lightly) and kickbox but I needed Tae Kwon Do to work, flex, strengthen and lengthen the muscles but not exhaust myself/burn major calories.

Again, meet with a nutritionist/trainer to re-focus your long- and short-term goals. You can do it!Good luck and let us know how you work things out.

-- Alex

Alexandra Allred

Alexandra Allred is a former member of the US Women's Bobsled team, is an accomplished martial artist, and continues to teach kickboxing while juggling her career as a full-time writer and mother of three. She has interviewed hundreds of athletes, models, actresses, trainers, doctors, and health/fitness experts as she sought to find answers to her own questions about working out while pregnant, arranging breast-feeding around a training schedule, diet when pregnant and breastfeeding, and encouraging her whole family.

Alex is the author of ten books, including Atta Girl! A Celebration of Women in Sports and Entering the Mother Zone: Balancing Self, Health & Family. We're excited to have her on board!