Any day of the year can be a new day to start a goal. New Years Day is simply another day on the calendar, but there is something special about having a designated day where millions of people around the world start (or revisit) goals. If you are thinking about or currently trying to get pregnant, there are lifestyle habits that can make a significant difference on your fertility, as well as the health of your pregnancy. Here we address 3 modifiable lifestyle factors that can help you get pregnant faster and are fantastic New Year Resolutions (or any day goals) for a healthier version of yourself.
Resolution #1: Maintain a Healthy Weight
Body fat can have a major impact on your ability to conceive by affecting ovulation. Fat tissue is metabolically active and either too little or too much can influence reproductive hormones. If your body fat percentage is too low, estrogen levels may be too low. If you are overweight, estrogen levels may be too high.
Weight is most likely affecting your ability to conceive if you have an irregular cycle. That said, however, even in obese women with regular cycles, time to pregnancy is increased compared to women of normal weight (source). The National Infertility Association reports that 30 percent of infertility cases are due to weight extremes, which can alter hormone levels and throw ovulation off schedule.
About 75 percent of overweight women who struggle with fertility have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (source). If you have irregular cycles and/or are overweight, consult with your doctor about plan that may be needed to balance your hormones.
Weight is not only an issue for women trying to conceive, it’s also an issue for your partner. Men, both underweight and overweight, can have reduced sperm quality. You should discuss with your doctor about a meal and exercise plan.
Ok, so how do you lose weight? The good news is that you may not need to lose as much weight as you think to create positive health changes. Research shows that losing just 5 to 10 percent weight can positively impact fertility (source). There is no 'magic' or easy solution to do this and it comes down to a healthy diet and exercise. As an article on Oxford Academic states, "lifestyle programs require intensive effort but can be effective. Fortunately ovulation is often achieved after minimal weight loss, perhaps because of the alteration in energy balance," (source).
Resolution #2: A Healthy Diet
Losing weight requires calorie restriction, but often if you simply focus on eating healthy, you will naturally feel more satisfied, eat less and lose weight.
The potential role of diet on fertility has been demonstrated through work with the Nurses Health Study II (NHSII). This study tracked lifestyle habits of 18,000 women and found that their dietary choices made a significant difference in their fertility (source).
Foods to Eat for Increased Fertility:
Women who ate more protein from plant protein rather than meat protein where found to be more fertile. In fact, ovulatory infertility was nearly 40% higher in women with the highest intakes of animal protein. Women with who had higher than 100 grams of protein where less fertile than women who had around 77 grams of protein per day (source).
This does not mean you need to become a vegetarian, but try replacing a serving of meat each day with plant protein. Protein rich foods to add are fish, legumes, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation, that is for sure. Turns out it's not carbohydrates that decrease fertility, but the type. Eat slow carbs such as legumes, vegetables, and whole grains, that are rich in fiber, can also prevent gestational diabetes. Women in the study who had a diet containing carbohydrates such as white bread and white pasta, had decreased fertility (source).
Fat that is found to be incredibly unhealthy is man-made trans fat found in processed foods. It is so unhealthy, in fact, that the FDA has deemed it unsafe and told the food industry they are no longer allowed to add Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) (source).
Trans fat can also be found naturally in meat and dairy products which is why it is essential to stick to healthy portion sizes. Follow the guidelines in the 'Healthy Plate' diagram below to see how much fat is recommend to consume.
Click here to read more about the Fertility Diet.
Anti-Fertility Foods: What to Avoid in your Diet:
As hard as it may be at first, try and refrain from sugary and starchy foods (ie: white bread and pasta). One does not have to deprive themselves entirely of dessert. There are many desserts you can make with healthier ingredients and with honey instead of sugar.
Replace white bread, bagels, rice, cakes, cookies and pasta with slow carbohydrates
Replace sodas (both diet and regular) and juice with tea or water
Replace processed foods with whole foods and home-cooked snacks and meals
Replace artificial sweeteners and sugar with honey
Portions are key — not only the size but the portion of each food group
Resolution #3: Meet the Recommended Amount of Exercise
When done right, exercise has been found to help with fertility by 1) increasing insulin sensitivity, which improves ovarian function and the chance of conception (source) and 2) as a key component to managing weight, which is essential for getting pregnant due to hormonal imbalances that can occur with excessive weight.
Recommendations for Safe Exercise for Fertility :
Do: At a minimum, perform 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (source).
Do: What is the best type of exercise? The type that you will do. Pick a type of physical activity that suits your lifestyle such as brisk walking, swimming, or gardening. One study that followed 3,628 women trying to conceive found that physical activity of any type might improve fertility among overweight and obese women (source).
Do: Add a safe weekly strength training regime in addition to endurance training. Check out a strength training workout plan here (source).
Do: If you are lean and work out vigorously, it is recommended to substitute your vigorous exercise with moderate exercise to potentially improve your fertility (source).
For more information on exercising for weight loss click here.
Resolution #4: Get Enough Sleep
A recent study that researched 120,000 women who perform shift work lends insight into the extent of how much sleep impacts fertility. The study revealed that women who work night shifts had an 80% higher rate of fertility issues, including a significantly more difficult time conceiving and a higher risk of having a miscarriage (source).
Why does this happen? Researchers have not yet pinpointed the exact cause, but experts believe that circadian rhythm is involved. Your internal clocks tell your body when to start and stop numerous biochemical functions at specific times. Among the many things that these clocks control such as hair growth, appetite, and sleep, is hormone production. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, it upsets these internal clocks and your body’s clock genes may cause biological changes that alter your hormone production (source).
Hormones affected by sleep in relation to fertility include melatonin, cortisol, progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). With chronically shortened sleep cycles or night shift work, these hormones get out of wack and may not only cause ovulation to be compromised, but also pregnancy complications.
Lack of sleep has also been shown to cause weight gain (source). Leptin, for example, affects both weight gain and ovulation. If a woman is not getting enough sleep or works night shifts, leptin production is compromised, which may cause irregular menstrual cycles and increased appetite.
Ok, so if you don’t sleep well, you might be thinking, "Thanks a lot! Now I’ll be even more stressed if I can’t sleep!” Click here for sleep hygiene tips that can make a world of a difference.
As you can tell, all the above goals are interrelated. Having a balanced diet and getting enough sleep and exercise will help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.