It often feels like there are a lot of rules about what you can and can't do when you're trying to get pregnant, and especially if you're pursuing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). For example, you might have heard that you're not supposed to work out too much when you're getting IVF, which sounds counterintuitive. But as it turns out, there's a physiological reason why you're supposed to be somewhat cautious with exercise if you're also getting IVF.
During IVF or egg-freezing procedures, doctors prescribe medications that intentionally stimulate a person's ovaries, Joshua Klein, MD, FACOG, chief medical officer and reproductive endocrinologist at Expect Fertility, told Refinery29 in an interview about exercise and fertility. Typically, ovaries release one egg a month, but these medications will cause multiple eggs to grow simultaneously, so that there are more opportunities to retrieve eggs.
When there are more eggs inside the ovaries, they're physically enlarged, Dr. Klein said. Enlarged ovaries are at a greater risk of a gynaecological emergency called "ovarian torsion," in which the ovary twists around its "stalk" and cuts off blood flow. "Every woman is, in theory, at risk [for ovarian torsion], but the typical story is that doesn’t happen out of the blue," he said. In fact, ovarian torsion tends to be pretty rare, affecting about one in 1.5 million women. But having enlarged ovaries from reproductive assistance can increase their likelihood of twisting, to about 0.2%, according to studies.
Certain types of high-impact exercise can increase the chances of ovarian torsion even more, such as running, jumping, or intense yoga positions, Dr. Klein said. Therefore, women undergoing fertility treatments are typically advised to avoid vigorous types of exercise during treatment, he said. "Again, that has nothing to do with general ability to get pregnant," but is rather a matter of safety, he said.
If you are exploring IVF, it's worth it to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your workout routine. Ultimately, finding gentle activities that are safe during IVF can improve your mood, or make you feel more in control of your body, which can be immensely helpful during this time. So, although IVF might mean taking a temporary break from your usual rigorous running schedule, you'll be prioritising your health and safety for the long-term.