In this blog we often praise exercise, but today let’s look at one example of what can happen to the body after too much exercise. In otherwise young and healthy women, extreme exercise can lead to infertility, which, typically, is reversible.
“Extreme exercise, where you’re straining the body, puts stress on the body that can be perceived by the brain as too stressful to allow ovulation to occur.” according to Dr. Richard J. Paulson, head of USC Fertility at the University of Southern California. Without ovulation, there will be no pregnancy. Paulson notes that it is usually not the amount of time exercising, but that the intensity level is the key factor.
The women who are at most risk of overexercise infertility are those who participate in exercise that often leads to low body weight, such as long distance running and ballet dancing. Here, when the body perceives that it is not taking in enough calories to compensate for the calories lost through exercise, it enters a state of starvation. Then the body begins to shut down organ systems that are not essential, and that includes the reproductive system.
But even many women athletes who train hard and eat enough stop having menstrual periods. One reason is that under the stress of excess exercise, the body releases more stress hormones (similar to what is excreted during “fight or flight” situations) which impair the secretion of the other essential hormones needed to keep menstrual cycles going.
Infertility with absent menstrual cycles
While the absence of menstrual cycles might be welcomed by some, over the long term, this can lead to more serious health issues. One problem is the lowered level of estrogen, which can predispose to osteoporosis (higher risk of bone fractures), atrophy of the breast and vagina, and later in life, a higher risk of heart attack.
But fortunately, before these complications occur, the situation can be reversed. A body mass index below 18 is considered underweight, and at the level, fertility can be affected. The first thing is to gain weight. This might mean eating more calories (including more fats), and it may also require curtailing exercise. Dr. Raul Artal, of the International Olympic Committee, recommends women who aren’t ovulating to decrease their exercise to a maximum of 5 hours per week. Sometimes the addition of estrogen via birth control pills or a patch will help.
Moderate exercise though will improve fertility
We want to emphasize that we are only talking here about regular intense levels of exercise—especially when associated with a low body weight—as a cause for infertility. For most women, moderate exercise will increase their fertility. Walking, light to moderate cycling, and similar activities for 30 to 60 minutes per day for the average women should improve her own physical state, and help insure a more healthy pregnancy. Consult your gynecologist or an endocrinologist for any questions about your own situation.
See also in ProcuraMed:
Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)