Fitness is part of our lifestyle. This concept is widely accepted thanks to awareness efforts about the benefits of fitness.
Fitness and a healthy lifestyle are commonly associated with prevention of lifestyle-related diseases. However, how many of us are aware of fertility fitness?
In essence, fertility is the state of being able to produce offspring.
Fitness is a condition of being physically fit and healthy.
Therefore, fertility fitness defines whether a man or woman is physically fit and healthy to produce children.
Fertility fitness also encompasses “emotional fitness” – being ready and able to embrace parenthood.
It is a well-known fact that fertility rates are declining. This is true for both men and women. In other words, the rate of male and female infertility has been rising in the last 10 years.
All of us probably agree that prevention is better than cure. This is true for health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. We take care of our food and physical fitness to avoid developing those conditions.
However, when it comes to fertility health, we tend to pay attention to it only when we face difficulty conceiving (infertility). We prefer to treat infertility rather than prevent infertility.
You may ask, “If I pay attention to fertility fitness, can I avoid infertility?”
The answer is “Yes, you may”.
Generally, we pay attention to diet and general fitness to prevent diabetes and high blood pressure, even though it’s not 100% guaranteed that these conditions can be prevented. Yet, general fitness is practised as a preventive strategy.
Fertility health and fitness should be viewed with the same mindset. Infertility can be prevented if we try.
When to start
Efforts to build your fertility fitness should start today. Fertility fitness is built over time. The earlier you start, the better the fertility fitness level will be.
The best time to begin paying attention to fertility fitness would be in your teenage years. You do not have to wait until you are married to start a family; start now. Building fertility fitness is like nurturing a plant, it takes time to grow.
Fertility fitness is for both men and women.
In the last five to 10 years, male infertility has been on the rise. The prevalence of male infertility as a sole or contributing cause to infertility is estimated in the range of 40%-50%.
This means that for nearly half of infertile couples, the male partner is the reason for the couple’s predicament.
Thus, it is important for men to start looking at their fertility health differently. The old saying that “men can reproduce as long as they live” is not true anymore. In recent years, even young men can face difficulties fathering a child.
How to start
I hope you have understood the importance of taking charge of your fertility fitness. But how do you achieve it?
Let me give you some tips to get started.
• Change of mindset – This initial step of changing your mindset is very crucial.
The change I am talking about is a conscious decision that fertility fitness can be built.
You need to start thinking of “preventing” infertility. “Prevention is better than cure” is also applicable to fertility health.
• Goal-setting – You should set a target to achieve. The “target” for fertility fitness will depend on your current fertility status. For instance, if you are young and just out of college, your “target” should be to nurture and maintain your fertility health.
If you are part of a couple facing infertility issues, your “target” should be to improve your fertility fitness in order to achieve a natural pregnancy or to have the best outcome from fertility treatments.
Different goals will guide the method and timeline of each step to achieve your optimal fertility fitness.
Setting a fertility goal is not an easy task, but with the right mindset, it is achievable.
Change of diet
We have heard of this phrase, “Eat well, live well”. When it comes to fertility fitness, this phrase is just as important.
Food is the “fertiliser” for the body, including the growing ovum (female egg) and sperm.
A woman is born with all her eggs. She ovulates one egg per menstrual cycle from a cohort of eggs. This cohort takes months (about two to three months) to develop and be ready to enter the menstrual cycle.
A sperm goes through a similar (two to three months) sperm production cycle. Thus, healthy food is vital to fuel these processes.
Change of lifestyle
Your lifestyle changes should reflect your desire to start a family.
A clear example of how an “unhealthy lifestyle” affects fertility fitness is smoking and alcohol abuse.
Among smokers, the toxins in cigarette smoke make the testicular environment hostile for sperm production and maturation. Even after stopping cigarette smoking, the effect can be long-lasting.
Alcohol abuse causes the same effect, which reduces sperm production.
Furthermore, you should start paying more attention to small things such as your sleep-wake pattern, your general fitness and your relationship with your partner.
These factors on their own may appear “small”, but when combined, their effect can be huge.
Fertility fitness is about both physical and mental fitness to achieve parenthood.
Stress affects the mental portion of fertility fitness. It halts a couple’s path towards parenthood. Scientifically speaking, stress reduces your libido and chances of getting pregnant naturally.
Complementary therapy can also be included in your regime to achieve fertility fitness.
Irregardless of where you are in terms of your fertility journey, the ancient wisdom of Eastern medicine will surely help.
Examples include yoga that focuses on fertility and traditional Chinese medicine.
To achieve your optimal fertility fitness, the first step starts within you. You have to be proactive in seeking out the appropriate information pertaining to your own fertility needs.
In essence, fertility fitness is acquired, and everybody can learn to achieve it.
Dr Agilan Arjunan is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, and fertility specialist.