Know which exercise habits improve your fertile health and which ones to stop doing now!
I’ve been a fertility and gynaecology specialist for over 12 years now, and one of the most important conversations I have with my patients is about exercise. I find I have to dispel so many myths about what’s good for their health and what’s bad. Fertile health is very sensitive to change; this obviously can be a good thing or a bad thing but the key to bear in mind is that any activity or stress on the body can sometimes have adverse effects if it is extreme for that individual.
Most patients know that some form of exercise is essential to maintain health, and for fertile health, the same applies. However, I’ve found that almost every patient is making one of two mistakes: they are partaking in very little exercise or doing way too much because their perspective is: the more the exercise, the better for health. Both can be detrimental to your fertile health. So is it just about balance? Everything in moderation, right? Not quite. Some forms of exercise put your fertile health at a disadvantage, and I advise against them completely; others that don’t seem like you’re doing much at all, yet will improve your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy by simply allowing the body to both replenish and conserve the necessary vital energies previously lost in the behaviours of keeping up with modern life: lack of sleep, poor diet, mental stress. We know that stress on the body is a bad thing. Still, many people don’t apply this notion to physical stress from exercise: excessive routines like HIIT and Cross-Fit are still a substantial stressor on the body, and it can adversely impact health: fertility, health especially. Fundamentally, whether you are struggling to have a healthy baby or looking to manage your fertile health, all you need to be doing is keep your Qi and Blood moving smoothly and sufficiently.
The Root of Fertile Health: the Kidney System
In traditional Chinese medicine, the Kidney system is fundamental to the root of your vital energy and constitution and in fertility health, we call this your Jing-essence. The demands of modern life severely depletes the Jing, and excessive exercise will do the very same. Signs and symptoms of already exhausted Kidney-Jing include hormonal dysfunction and reproductive disorders at their root such as poor semen parameters and ovarian irregularities including egg-health decline. In my clinic, any signs pointing to a deficiency of the Kidney-Jing and I will immediately look at the patient’s work-life balance and exercise routine; I find they are often doing themselves a disservice with the choices they are making with their lifestyle. The point is that if you are depleting your Jing-essence, getting pregnant and staying pregnant will be much more difficult. And as the Qi and Blood are the vital nutrients that need to continuously nourish the Kidney (as well as other organ systems, discussed later), it’s the steady, more energy-nourishing exercise habits that are far better indicated for improving the constitution and thus reproductive health.
So gentle and steady, energy and Blood-revitalising (not draining) exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi are excellent to improve and support fertile and reproductive health. However, more extreme exercise like HIIT and Cross-Fit place far too much stress on the body, preventing its natural processes from functioning optimally. I’ve seen several times with patients with ovulatory irregularities that they have a very intense exercise regime consisting of these types of classes. The hormonal function is particularly adversely affected where they’re unable to send the right messages at the right time, and they lose their natural working balance completely. From a TCM perspective, you are not allowing the body to bring itself back to a regulated performance system when it is put under so much intense exercise; whilst acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treatment will get you back on track, it will happen a lot quicker if you cut down on these types of strenuous cardio exercises and replace it with something else much more steady. The ONLY time I would perhaps suggest this form of exercise may be beneficial is when I have a patient who is overweight and/or suffering from excessive water retention, e.g. in some (not all) cases of PCOS. In such cases, my treatment combined with lifestyle advice and a low GL dietary plan combined with TCM dietetics to rid the body of Damp and Phlegm works wonders to treat this type of gynaecological disorder. However once these issues have been regulated, I would recommend stopping this type of exercise and moving on to the less-intensive, more nourishing types.
The Supporting Organ Systems: Liver, Spleen, Heart all play a vital part in making sure the Qi and Blood get to the necessary parts of the body, including the reproductive systems enabling them to both stay nourished and treat any dysfunction. However, whilst their health is essential to keep the Qi and Blood moving effectively, this movement must be smooth enough to simultaneously allow the body to replenish vital nutrients as they are being depleted. Putting the sudden pressure of extreme exercise on the body weakens the vital Qi without giving it a chance to recuperate; this is counterintuitive. So whilst you may think that your lifestyle is sedentary. Yes, this is bad, causing stagnation of the Liver Qi, which then leads to a stagnation of the Blood, doing excessive cardio or intensive exercise isn’t the long-term answer – yes, you feel good for it because it releases endorphins; still, you’re putting your body under more stress in the long run and ultimately depleting your vital systems.
Think about your exercise routine, or lack of it, and consider the above. More prolonged, steady exercise is much more beneficial to help wind the body down off the excess adrenaline and cortisol and to build and tonify the vital Qi and Blood to improve the whole health system. And please don’t think the more, the better, when it comes to intensity. Take the above into account or you’ll be doing your physical and mental health a major disservice.
The Worst – due to intense cardio and fluid loss
HIIT, Cross-Fit, Spinning, Hot-Yoga
These are way too intense and the loss of your vital nutrients in the form of your vital Qi and body fluids, which absolutely depend on their conservation and revitalisation to promote fertile heath.
The Best – slow, steady, strengthening and vitality revitalising
Yoga, Tai-Chi. Golf. Long and steady walks