Eight years ago, I ran my very first half marathon. It was then that I caught the running bug. Running made me feel alive. I was in great shape, ate well and was overall very healthy. Fast forward two years. I was still running long distances but now my husband and I were trying to conceive our first child. After months of trying, I finally became pregnant. However, just ten weeks later, I miscarried. Right after I got home from a 6-mile run.
When we were given the OK to begin trying again, I refused to touch my running shoes. I wanted nothing to do with running even though I knew it was not what caused the miscarriage. I still continued to exercise hard at the gym. I still craved the same running-induced endorphins, just in a different way.
After two years of trying on our own, we went to a specialist. Since I wasn’t ovulating and my menstrual cycle was irregular, he suggested I scale back my workouts to a lower intensity for no more than 30 minutes a day. At first it was a hard prescription to swallow. Working out makes me feel good. It helped me deal with the stress of trying to conceive. However, I was willing to do whatever the doctor suggested if it meant bettering my chance of becoming a mother.
Once I cut back my workouts, my menstrual cycle became regular. I began to ovulate. Within six months, I was pregnant. Did cutting back the intensity of my workouts help? It’s hard to say if that was the determining factor.
The great debate is whether long-distance running or high-intensity, long-duration activity and menstruation are related. Most physicians are undecided. A runner’s body weight, stress level, age and size are all factors. In addition, the runner’s menstrual cycle must be examined. Amenorrhea, or chronic missed periods, affects up to 44 percent of women who exercise. It’s especially common in long-distance runners, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Women with exercise-induced amenorrhea are estrogen deficient. Estrogen is one of the most important female hormones, and when there is too little of it, the health risks include infertility and osteoporosis, among other health issues.
On the flip side, not exercising at all can reduce your fertility. Women who don’t exercise, are overweight and have a higher BMI, are also at risk for having difficulty conceiving.
The key to optimal fertility appears to be finding a balance between too little exercise and too much. For each of us, that number is different.
If you have questions about your menstrual cycle or reproductive health, your best source of information is your physician.