Male factor infertility accounts for ~20% of IVF/ICSI cycles undertaken. While there are many reasons for male infertility, there is a 50% greater chance of reductions in fertility in overweight males. Male factor infertility is associated with increased levels of inflammation and oxidative stress that can damage sperm, causing DNA fragmentation. Male factors, such as increased oxidative stress, are also implicated in recurrent pregnancy loss. So how can you improve the health of your swimmers?
Does Exercise Work?
Exercise has been shown to improve sperm quality and DNA damage by reducing markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. Research also shows that exercise can combat the negative effects of a bad diet for sperm, improving sperm quality by 68%. Importantly, moderate intensity exercise is superior to high-intensity interval training for improving sperm health so you need to get the exercise prescription right. For highly trained athletes, regular, high-intensity exercise with minimal recovery between sessions may actually reduce sperm quality. An Exercise Physiologist can provide you with the optimal exercise program to enhance your fertility.
If you are male and your preferred mode of exercise is cycling there is also evidence to suggest that you may need to back off time spent on the bike and swap this for another aerobic activity. Cycling for more than five hours a week is associated with a 92% chance of low sperm concentration. If you are trying for a baby then you can still cycle but may need to modify the frequency and intensity of your sessions.
If you are a gym junkie then keep training at moderate levels and avoid the use of supplements which may be contaminated with steroid-like substances. It goes without saying, avoid the use of anabolic steroids too. After two years of anabolic steroid use, 80% of bodybuilders (average age 27 years) had testicular atrophy, 24% reduction in sperm volume, 32% reduction in sperm motility, and a 62% reduction in sperm fertility index – not great for baby making.
Best Chance of Success
Even if male factor fertility issues are not the primary reason you are undergoing IVF, ensuring your sperm are in tip-top shape will help you to maximize your chance of success. If you have not exercised regularly before and are planning to undergo IVF, exercise will benefit your sperm health. The bonus is that improved sperm health will improve the health of your offspring too!