exercise addiction and fertility

How to End Exercise Addition and Increase Fertility

Search for”exercise and fertility”, and you’ll be bombarded with reasons it’s important to have a consistent exercise routine, and tips on a good one. But, for a lot of women, me included, exercise prevents them from starting their family.

Why too much exercise can be a bad thing

Stress is stress is stress. Your body accepts all life stressors – career, relational, lack of sleep, and exercise – as a drain on overall health. When done in moderate amounts and intensities, exercise is a wonderful stress reliever, but add too much and risk shutting down key functions.

Read This: Optimal Weight, Body Fat, and Exercise for Fertility

Research has shown that extreme exercise can negatively effect the thyroid which can impact your hormonal balance and reproductive system. In a Norwegian study, researchers found that both very high and very low levels of physical activity negatively effected a woman’s fertility (source).

How to know your relationship with exercise is in the danger zone

I go into detail on these points in my post, Four Red Flags Your Exercise is Unhealthy, but here is a helpful recap:

  • No unplanned off-days
    • You refuse to skip a workout no matter what
    • You obsess over how you’ll make up for a missed workout
    • You’re in a funk because you didn’t workout or cut it short
    • You alter your eating because of it
  • Workouts are always all-out
    • Pushing yourself to the max should happen 1-2 times a week, not every workout.
  • Rigid workout schedule negatively impacts your life
    • If you refuse to do anything that interferes with your workout plan, your life is out of balance.
  • Calorie burn is your main or only goal
    • When you only focus on caloric math, you will end up spiraling into longer and harder workouts that only add to mental stress.
After my second marathon, Chicago Marathon 2010

What to do next

Stopping, or even cutting back, your workout regimen is harder than it sounds if you identified with the red flags mentioned above. I remember when my OB casually said, “You’ll have to cut way back on running or stop all together.” I sat there with a blank expression, not able to picture my daily life without running.

Be honest in your Why

Typically, you dig for your Why to create workout goals and increase your motivation. But, if you’re exercising too much, you’re going to need to reverse engineer this one.

Often, I see women in this category saying the reason they workout is for stress relief, to maintain their weight, and for me-time. All very valid reasons. But, does the volume and intensity of your workouts match that goal? You can relieve stress and get me-time in 30 minutes at moderate intensity. Why are you really running for an hour and a half?

A common Why for the exercise obsessed, is actually control. Or perhaps it’s a convenient way to hide from other things in your life. You have to be completely honest when asking yourself Why your workout routine looks like it does, in order to be OK with changing it.

Now, reframe your Why. If you are truly working out to increase your fertility, each workout should be done with that in mind. It’s no longer about going harder and longer, it’s about listening to your body and allowing it to heal.

Identify your dealbreaker (truly) healthy aspects of exercise

Go back to the Find Your Why question. Think about, and actually jot down, the positive benefits you get from exercise in general. Not your specific routine, but simply moving your body. A common examples

  • Stress relief
  • Endorphin rush
  • Getting outside
  • Community of a group class/gym
  • Routine
  • Working towards goals

In the end, you want to find activities – exercise related or not – that hit these qualities.

Start small with short term benchmarks

While some women are best going cold-turkey, most are not. What I see working best is starting with small cutbacks and looking 2-weeks to a month in the future.

For me, my dealbreakers were an endorphin rush, alone time, and I knew I wanted to keep running in my routine. My before: Running 4-5 days a week, including a long run (9+ miles), and 1-2 intense interval workouts. After: Running 3 times a week, all steady state, for 30 minutes. I committed to doing this for one month, and from there would reassess.

Layout a plan for yourself, because it’s likely what you find comfort in. Cut back by at least 50%, and aim for going “all-out” only once a week.

Stick with it through the uncomfortable bits

This is, by far, the hardest part! And, why my job is coaching women through this process. When you love a routine, and have been exercising a certain way, likely for years, it’s going to feel foreign and it’s going to get uncomfortable.

It’s so easy to want to throw in the towel the first time you want to push harder. Maybe you’ve planned to do an easy yoga flow but you want to go to a 90 minute bot yoga session. Or, perhaps you feel like your workout doesn’t even count because aren’t drenched in sweat.

Just like when ramping up your training, it’s crucial to stick to your plan when it doesn’t feel possible.

What helped me, was thinking about the alternative. If I caved and added extra exercises, where would that get me?

If you are got this far, you are looking into intense exercise and fertility for a reason. Maybe you’ve been told by your OB, or even a fertility specialist, that you need to cut back. Or maybe, you simply have that gut feeling that your routine isn’t serving you now that you’re ready to start your family.

It’s going to get difficult, you’re going to feel lazy, and you’re going to feel flabby (even though you aren’t! You. Aren’t.). Know that those moments will come. Prepare for them by making the bigger picture – getting pregnant, and having a healthy baby – so vivid in your mind that getting through the uncomfortable parts without regressing becomes the sought after goal.

When you commit to making adjustments, your mind and attitude have to be in it, too. Personally, I noticed my mindset was focused on this being completely temporary, and that I’d be back as soon as I had a baby.

Then, that changed. I didn’t want to go back, because I wasn’t 100% happy there. I was stressed over fitting workouts in, doing “enough”, and to gain 10 pounds and not run as much would surely end the world.

It is so incredibly freeing to have found a healthier relationship with exercise. Plus, the fact that my body not only carried a healthy pregnancy, but is now cycling regularly, is the biggest confirmation that I did the right thing. It was worth fighting through every doubt, I promise.

If your workouts are taking over, and you worry they could interfere with your chances of conception, I’d love to help you create balance. Schedule a free 20 minute Discovery Call to see if we’re a good fit for preconception health coaching

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