For many of us, few activities are as anticipated as a good run. Just the thought of lacing up a favorite pair of running shoes, firing up that workout playlist and chasing a new PR (personal record) sparks joy. A wonderful sense of anticipation sets in after the first mile, knowing the tightness and soreness will soon give way to a pleasant endorphin-driven buzz that will linger for hours.
Somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of Americans in their prime childbearing years report that they are regular runners.
If you are a runner trying to start a family, you might wonder what impact your running habit has on fertility. For the most part, running is very good for your overall health and your fertility.
A recent study shows that men who run or engage in other vigorous forms of exercise fifteen or more hours a week have higher concentrations of sperm and high sperm count than men who don’t.
For both men and women, running and other forms of high intensity exercise can be key to maintaining healthy weight. Since obesity has been linked to infertility in both men and women and can be a barrier to healthy pregnancy and delivery, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is important.
In addition to the physical benefits, running can help alleviate stress and encourage better sleep. Struggling with infertility can be highly stressful, and running is a much healthier coping mechanism than some other alternatives, like smoking or drinking.
When should you be concerned that running might be negatively impacting your fertility?
Running only seems to surface as a risk factor in fertility in more extreme circumstances.
Women with low BMI may need to pull back a bit on training and increase calories, particularly if they are not menstruating regularly. Even if women are regularly menstruating, other signs of overtraining like unrelenting fatigue and soreness might be cause for concern and should be discussed with a doctor.
For men who log a lot of miles, there’s also some evidence that running may have a negative impact on sperm quality and production.
On balance, the benefits of running far outweigh concerns about any negative impact. Want to get started? Here are a few tips:
- Pick a spot. One of the great things about running is that it doesn’t require any special equipment or a gym membership; you just need a good pair of shoes and a park, trail or quiet street. Be aware of your surroundings at all times and wear highly-visible clothing.
- Grab a buddy. Do you need encouragement and accountability? Invite your partner along, or go with a friend. Many cities and parks also have active runner’s clubs for people of every age and ability.
- Set a goal. Sign up for an upcoming fun run or 5K road race. Use an app to discover your current running pace, then work to improve it. See how long or far you can run without stopping, then try to run a little longer or further next time. There’s lots of ways to challenge yourself!
- Make a plan. Find a training plan online and follow it; you’ll also find a host of free “couch to 5K” running apps in your app store on your phone.
Questions about your exercise habits and how they might be impacting your fertility? Be sure to discuss them with your doctor at your next appointment.