It is no secret that being overweight brings with it a laundry list of health problems, and impaired fertility surely makes the list. However, to improve fertility outcomes, don’t just keep an eye on your own waist, but also that of your male partner. And, though we know that making dietary changes is essential to losing or maintaining weight, too often we consider physical activity as an “extra” that it is not as important as diet. Wrong! Exercise and a healthy diet are a marriage in weight management, an unbreakable one.
At Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center, 137 men seeking fertility treatments between 2006-2012 were evaluated on the relationship between their sperm concentrations and their exercise habits. The study found men who engaged in moderate to high intensity exercise for seven hours a week, showed 48% higher sperm concentrations than those who exercised less than one hour per week.
But does the type of physical activity matter? It does. Outdoor activities and weight lifting were associated with higher sperm performance. The study’s authors attribute these results to the testosterone increase and improved insulin management effect of weight lifting; whereas, outdoor activities may increase levels of vitamin D, which has shown to impact fertility.
Plenty of studies show lifting weights in the following manner produces the greatest testosterone boost: three to four sets, 8-12 reps, and selecting exercises that work different muscles at the same time—squats, pull-ups, and push-ups. Likewise, one study observed subjects with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes – a condition often associated to years of excess sugar intake and weight gain. The subjects participated in resistance-training workouts, twice a week, for 16 weeks. The study revealed a favorable impact on insulin sensitivity and/or an increase in the activity of the transporters of glucose to the muscles.
Also, don’t ever think exercise works likes a savings account that bears benefits with little effort. You have to make daily deposits to keep your health balance in the black. Barbara Bushman, Ph.D., FACSM, of Missouri State University, explains in her article in the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, that exercising on a regular basis is particularly important as the effects on blood glucose levels are lost within days of the activity.
In fact, when healthy subjects reduced their physical activity from more than 10,000 steps per day to less than 5,000 within three days, postprandial glucose (glucose levels measured after a carbohydrate-rich meal) increased significantly. (“Lowering Physical Activity Impairs Glycemic Control in Healthy Volunteers,” published in Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise.)
It’s worthwhile to mention that as great as lifting weights and outdoor cardio may be for male fertility, if biking is your chosen activity, hold off for a while. In the same study, men who biked for more than an hour a week had 34% lower sperm count than those who didn’t cycle. The pressure placed against the scrotum by a bike’s seat, and/or the increased temperature in this area, has shown to impair fertility.
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