Infertility is estimated to impact approximately 8–12% of the global population. (1)
Being fertile means that you can conceive a child through your reproductive system. Within each menstrual cycle, you are most fertile when the egg is released from your ovaries, which usually occurs in the middle of your cycle (ovulation period).
There are many elements to fertility – age being the most critical. As females, we are born with all the eggs that we will ever need. Theoretically, we become fertile from when our period starts. Every day we lose eggs naturally. The decrease is gradual when we are young and becomes steeper in middle age. Not only does the quantity, but the quality also decreases as we reach menopause (when periods cease). This makes it more difficult to get pregnant.
Whilst we can’t get in the way of this biological physiology, many factors can hasten or interrupt this process earlier on – including medical conditions, drugs, and lifestyle. The good thing is, lifestyle factors are modifiable and can have a large impact on improving both your physical and mental well-being.
Here are 5 tips that can help to boost your fertility!
Tip 1: Stop Smoking
Many research studies have shown that smoking can have a negative consequence on the function of your ovaries and can even lead to earlier menopause. (2) The harmful chemicals within the cigarette can change the DNA in the eggs and alter your hormone production. This can result in you taking much longer compared to non-smokers to get pregnant. (3)
Did you know? This includes second-hand smoking too!
Understandably, it is very difficult to stop smoking. However, perseverance and support from your friends, family, and local GP can make it easier. The GP provides a variety of free services to help someone stop smoking, tailored to what will be best for you.
For more information – visit NHS stop smoking services.
Tip 2: Abstain from Alcohol
As with smoking, alcohol can also delay your success in conceiving by interrupting your ovulation phase. The precise mechanism behind this is unknown. You might think, a little bit won’t make a difference. But independent of the quantity, it has profound effects and is strongly recommended to be avoided before (and during) pregnancy. (4)
If abstaining from alcohol is difficult for you, especially if you are a heavy drinker or a dependent considering to stop smoking – please visit Alcohol support – NHS for further guidance.
Tip 3: Omit Obesity
Obesity in women of reproductive age is becoming more prevalent globally. (5) The associated risk of heart problems, cancer, diabetes is well known, but fertility problems caused by ovulation inconsistencies and reduced quality of the eggs are being recognised in recent years. Women with a body mass index (BMI) > 27 are 3 times more likely to be unable to conceive. (6)
Obesity disrupts the balance of your hormones by increasing the level of the hormone leptin (made in the fat cells) and decreasing the level of the sex hormone responsible for regulating oestrogen. (7) This can reduce fertility by increasing the risk of irregular periods, increasing the time taken to get pregnant.
NHS provides a weight loss plan to help individuals who wish to lose weight – Lose weight – NHS.
Tip 4: Stress, stresses the body
Like in many other conditions, sometimes it can be really difficult to pinpoint what’s causing infertility. In these cases, recently some researchers have found that it may be due to mental health problems e.g. stress, depression, sleeping disorders, etc. (8) Day to day stress can reduce the chances of falling pregnant. (9) The exact process is unknown and requires further studies, however, may be explained by the body recognising that it’s not a good time to have a baby, stress causing a reduced sex drive (and so less sex), or stress leading to maladaptive coping habits such as alcohol or smoking.
Tip 5: Ensure you exercise
The NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week. (10) However, many of us have very busy lives which makes it difficult to spare some time to work out.
There is a lot of evidence that shows that exercising can improve fertility and reduce the risk of ovulation problems. (11) Not only does exercise improve fertility, but it can also reduce stress and improve self-esteem.
However, too much of anything is harmful. Over-exercising can have the opposite effect (infertility) and so it is recommended to exercise sensibly.
If you don’t exercise and are trying to get pregnant, aim to slowly incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It may be something simple like skipping a few bus stops when you’re out or cycling to work. For more ideas – visit Exercise – NHS.
DISCLAIMER: The following tips are evidence-based but do not replace your doctor’s recommendations. Please seek help from your GP if you are struggling to conceive.
- Inhorn MC, Patrizio P. Infertility around the globe: new thinking on gender, reproductive technologies and global movements in the 21st century. Human Reproduction Update. 2015 Mar 22;21(4):411–26.
- Augood C, Duckitt K, Templeton AA. Smoking and female infertility: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction [Internet]. 1998 Jun 1 [cited 2019 Feb 28];13(6):1532–9. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/13/6/1532/815813
- Baird DD. Cigarette Smoking Associated With Delayed Conception. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 1985 May 24;253(20):2979.
- Hakim RB, Gray RH, Zacur H. Alcohol and caffeine consumption and decreased fertility. Fertility and Sterility. 1998 Oct;70(4):632–7.
- Poston L, Caleyachetty R, Cnattingius S, Corvalán C, Uauy R, Herring S, et al. Preconceptional and maternal obesity: epidemiology and health consequences. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology [Internet]. 2016 Dec;4(12):1025–36. Available from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(16)30217-0/fulltext
- Grodstein F, Goldman MB, Cramer DW. Body Mass Index and Ovulatory Infertility. Epidemiology. 1994 Mar;5(2):247–50.
- Wei S, Schmidt MD, Dwyer T, Norman RJ, Venn AJ. Obesity and Menstrual Irregularity: Associations With SHBG, Testosterone, and Insulin. Obesity. 2009 May;17(5):1070–6.
- Szkodziak F, Krzyżanowski J, Szkodziak P. Psychological aspects of infertility. A systematic review. Journal of International Medical Research. 2020 Jun;48(6):030006052093240.
- Lynch CD, Sundaram R, Maisog JM, Sweeney AM, Buck Louis GM. Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study—the LIFE study. Human Reproduction. 2014 May;29(5):1067–75.
- NHS. Exercise [Internet]. NHS. 2019. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
- Aria B, Salehi-Abargouei A, Lotfi M, Mirzaei M. Effect of exercise, body mass index, and waist to hip ratio on female fertility [Internet]. [cited 2022 Jan 20]. Available from: https://jbrms.medilam.ac.ir/browse.php?sid=1&a_id=531&slc_lang=en&ftxt=1
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