Fertility fitness helps you take back control

Feeling that you have no control can be a major frustration when you are not able to conceive, but there might be aspects of your fertility wellbeing or fitness that are within your power to change, says Dr Sharleen Hapuarachi. 

Changing the things you can

“A big aspect of struggling with infertility can be feeling out of control,” says Dr Hapuarachi, “but making small changes can make a difference that we can see in the clinic.

“Taking regular exercise, eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, achieving a healthy BMI, minimising caffeine consumption and taking a good quality fertility supplement so that your body is fit and ready for a baby are all things that you can do,” she explains. “These measures are good for your fertility and long-term health and will also support the pregnancy. Making these changes also gives you a feeling of being more in control, which is good for your emotional wellbeing.”

Dr Hapuarachi will be speaking at the inaugural meeting of Fertility Network UK’s East of England Fertility Group, with the focus on ‘Keeping fertility fit’ on 6th September 2023. Find out more and book your place at fertilitynetworkuk.org/events/east-of-england.

Sharleen Hapuarachi
Sharleen Hapuarachi

BMI and reproductive hormones

Dr Hapuarachi explains that diet and body weight both have a big impact on the reproductive hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Both males and females have these hormones. Progesterone, often thought of as a ‘woman’s hormone’, is used to make testosterone, which is needed for sperm production. As men get older, or if they become overweight, they produce less testosterone.

For women oestrogen is needed to mature the eggs and trigger the release of one mature egg each month – known as ovulation.

Dr Hapuarachi says that a female is born with all the eggs she will ever have, but for a male, sperm is produced continuously. “Making lifestyle changes will have less impact on egg quality than it does on sperm, however as body fat can affect the hormones it is still well worth trying to improve your nutrition and gain a healthy BMI. 

“A woman’s eggs are stored in a very premature state and it is the hormones that mature them and trigger ovulation. If your BMI is too high, reducing weight by 5-10 per cent can increase your chances of resuming your menstrual cycle, if that is the only reason for anovulation.

“Women with PCOS can struggle to lose weight so getting a diagnosis is important to help decision-making. There are supplements that can really help to restore those hormone imbalances.” 

Fertility fitness for men 

A male factor makes a contribution to 50% of infertility and many of the factors that reduce sperm quality are reversible.

Dr Hapuarachi lists the following ways that men can improve their fertility:

  • Reduce scrotal temperature – the sperm are made in the testes, which are outside the body cavity as they need to keep cool.
  • Consider nutritional supplements – there are specific formulations for sperm production.
  • Get advice about prescription medication such as Sulfasalazine, which is used to treat Crohns and rheumatoid arthritis and can affect sperm production.
  • Avoid herbal remedies – root extracts of the Chinese herb Tripterygium wilfordii can affect sperm production.
  • Reduce alcohol and give up smoking tobacco and illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine – all of which impact sperm quality.
  • Avoid anabolic steroids used for body building – affects sperm motility and numbers.

Dr Hapuarachi explains that for men it is a case of making sure that sperm production is as it should be. “As well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, men should avoid activities which increase testicular temperature such as saunas, hot baths, steam rooms, using a laptop on the lap and wearing lycra or tight underwear. Also excessive exercise such as rowing or cycling is best avoided.”

Emotional wellbeing 

For anyone on a fertility journey ‘fertility fitness’ doesn’t just apply to the physical aspects, emphasises Dr Hapuarachi: 

“Keeping fit in the mind is such an important part of the fertility journey. Making time as a couple to do things together that you enjoy, and having a good balance with diet and exercise, can help you to feel more positive about life and that helps to reduce anxiety and stress. 

“We know that being stressed impacts your hormones. It is not the cause of infertility but it has an effect on fertility – so anything that can decrease stress levels will  have an indirect benefit for your fertility. You might also find counselling, developing a good support network or having acupuncture or reflexology can help to better enhance your state of mind.

“It is easy to feel cut off from friends and family when on a fertility journey, so support groups, where you can talk freely with people with similar experiences, are really important; that is why I was delighted to accept the opportunity to talk at the first Fertility Network UK East of England Support Group meeting.” 

Dr Hapuarachi is speaking about ‘Keeping Fertility Fit’ at Fertility Network UK’s East of England Support Group meeting taking place on 6 September at 7.30pm. As part of her talk she will be discussing: Infertility risk factors; organic causes of subfertility; Oligo/anovulation; the effects of damaged/blocked fallopian tubes; the sperm factor – and how lifestyle changes can sometimes help; endometriosis and its impact on fertility; how to get fit for natural conception; how to get fit for assisted conception. 

Weight-loss helped Danielle conceive naturally after Ovulation Induction 

When fertility tests at Bourn Hall revealed that Danielle had PCOS and wasn’t ovulating she was offered ovulation induction – but advised that her chances of success would be higher if she reduced her BMI. 

PCOS is a hormone imbalance that disrupts the monthly release of a mature egg and can cause infertility. Women with the condition can also find it difficult to lose weight – something which Danielle had experienced. 

“I wasn’t very good with what I was eating,” she says. “I was picking instead of making proper meals, I had to plan better. I went to Slimming World and we did a lot of family walks with my parents. I attempted some running but…I am not very good! So it was really a case of getting my step count up. 

“I felt a lot better in myself for losing the weight, I lost two stone in four months, and I had a lot more energy which was nice.” 

After her weight loss Danielle and her husband Craig had ovulation induction at Bourn Hall and conceived naturally – they now have son Harlan, born in January this year. 

Read more of Danielle’s story.

Danielle and Craig with their children

More information

Dr Hapuarachi will be speaking at the inaugural meeting of Fertility Network UK’s East of England Fertility Group, with the focus on ‘Keeping fertility fit’ on 6th September 2023. Find out more and book your place at fertilitynetworkuk.org/events/east-of-england.

Being healthy and improving fitness can improve your chances of conception, whether you are trying for a baby with or without fertility treatment. Find out more on our blog.

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