It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and couples everywhere are planning romantic gestures that’ll make everyone on social media green with envy. But this year, instead of old standbys like flowers and romantic dinners, making a commitment to get fit together might be the sexiest thing you and your partner can do—especially if you’re overweight or obese and trying to have a baby.
“Being overweight or obese can negatively impact fertility—and not just in women. We’re now starting to learn more about how weight affects fertility in men,” explains Aaron R. Chidakel, MD, a clinical endocrinologist and assistant clinical professor at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. “The good news is that weight is one of the things in life we can do something about by encouraging weight loss and healthy lifestyle choices that promote fertility.”
For both women and men, fertility and body weight are intricately connected. Among women, obesity goes hand in hand with increased risk of miscarriage and conditions that may affect fertility, like uterine fibroids.1,2,3 Obese men are seen to be at a higher risk for erectile dysfunction.4 Ejaculate volume and sperm count are seen to decline with larger waistlines among sedentary men who are overweight or obese.5
“We still don’t know entirely how weight affects fertility, but we do know that there’s a change in hormone production, like estrogen, by excess fat tissue,” Dr. Chidakel says. “For both women and men, changes in hormone concentrations can negatively impact fertility.”
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s no wonder why couples who are obese take a longer time getting pregnant in comparison to their leaner peers.6 If you’re a prospective mom or dad who sees a pram in your near future, research shows that shedding those extra pounds through healthy lifestyle change, like incorporating physical activity, could boost your chances of getting pregnant and improve pregnancy outcomes.
“Healthy weight loss under the care and supervision of your doctor may have significant health benefits,” explains Lauren Shirley, PT, DPT, doctor of physical therapy at Cortland Regional Medical Center, in Cortland, NY. “Losing just ten percent of your body weight can improve many chronic conditions.”
And the research shows, this may include fertility.
A study in the journal Fertility and Sterility showed that overweight women with infertility who lost 10% of their body weight through diet and exercise were seen to have significantly higher conception rates (88% vs. 54%) and live birth rates (71% vs. 37%) in comparison to women who didn’t lose weight.7 Weight loss through lifestyle change among obese women has also been seen to reduce the number of fertility treatment cycles needed during assisted reproduction.8
Losing weight can also help fathers-to-be. A study in Urology Journal showed that weight loss through exercise and improved nutrition increases semen volume, sperm concentration, and sperm motility.9 What’s more, among couples who are trying to conceive, obese men whose partners became pregnant were of those who lost more weight.10
Health benefits of exercising are apparent, so why make working out together a priority? According to Dr. Shirley, couples are more likely to succeed if they stay active as a team.
“Making healthy lifestyle changes can be a challenge—especially within couples where both partners aren’t on board. This is why I encourage people to exercise together,” Dr. Shirley continues. “Exercising in a pair or group drives and motivates a person to be more active. For couples specifically, both men and women are more likely to make positive health changes if their partner does too—much more so than if their partner were to stay unhealthy.”
Not only can exercising together raise motivation to get fit but it can also strengthen a relationship. “Couples who exercise together and push each other help one another to stay on track and to reach their goals physically and emotionally,” Dr. Shirley adds. “Those who participate in intense exercise together have even been seen to experience more attraction to their partners.”
This Valentine’s Day, try thinking outside the heart-shaped chocolate box and opting for activities like dancing, jogging, hiking, or taking a fitness class together at your local gym. It can be a fun, new way for you and your partner to reconnect and get healthy for each other and your future little one. And how does the saying go? Couples who sweat together, stay together…and quite possibly, make a baby.
Before starting a new exercise routine, always consult with your doctor first.
ABOUT THE DOCTORS
Aaron R. Chidakel, MD, is a clinical endocrinologist and assistant clinical professor at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Chidakel’s clinical and research interests include conditions that impact fertility in women and men, including obesity. An advocate for healthy lifestyle change, Dr. Chidakel works with and encourages his patients to incorporate positive behaviors that help promote fertility.
Lauren Shirley, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Cortland Regional Medical Center in Cortland, NY. Certified in Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization (IASTM) and Kinesio Taping, her clinical interests include orthopedics, sports injuries, spine, and pediatrics. Dr. Shirley is active in her community and dedicated to helping people achieve and maintain wellness through physical activity.
1. Broughton, D. E., & Moley, K. H. (2017). Obesity and female infertility: potential mediators of obesity’s impact. Fertil Steril, Apr;107(4):840-847.
2. Purohit, P., & Vigneswaran, K. (2016). Fibroids and infertility. Curr Obstet Gynecol Rep, Apr;5:81-88.
3. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. (2017). Uterine fibroids. Retreived from https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/uterine-fibroids?from=AtoZ
4. Harvard Men’s Health Watch. (2011, Mar). Obesity: Unhealthy and unmanly. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-health/obesity-unhealthy-and-unmanly
5. Eisenberg, M. L., Kim, S., Chen, Z., et al. (2014). The relationship between male BMI and waist circumference on semen quality: Data from the LIFE study. Hum Reprod, Feb;29(2):193-200.
6. Sundaram, R., Mumford, S. L., & Buck Louis, G. M. (2017). Couples’ body composition and time-to-pregnancy. Hum Reprod, Mar;32(3):662-668.
7. Kort, J. D., Winget, C., Kim, S. H., et al. (2014). A retrospective cohort study to evaluate the impact of meaningful weight loss on fertility outcomes in an overweight population with infertility. Fertil Steril, May;101(5):1400-1403.
8. Sim, K. A., Dezarnaulds, G. M., Denver, G. S., et al. (2014). Weight loss improves reproductive outcomes in obese women undergoing fertility treatment: A randomized controlled trial. Clin Obes, Apr;4(2):61-68.
9. Rafiee, B., Morowvat, M. H., Rahimi-Ghalati, N. (2016). Comparing the effectiveness of dietary vitamin C and exercise interventions on fertility parameters in normal obese men. Urol J, Apr;13(2):2635-2639.
10. Belan, M., Duval, K., Jean-Denis, F., et al. (2015). Impacts of lifestyle and anthropometric changes in male partners of obese infertile women on couples’ fertility—preliminary results from a cohort study. ENDO 2015: San Diego.