Expert / 15 March, 2024 / Christina Walter

Fertility Fitness: Expert Insights For 2024 By Professor Geeta Nargund

For many, 2024 will be the year they decide to start a family. However, this is sometimes easier said than done. With 1 in 6 people and 1 in 7 couples affected by infertility, it is time we started thinking about how to improve our fertility fitness.

When people decide they want to try and conceive they may encounter myths, unsolicited advice and complex scientific information. My first and most important piece of advice for you will always be to consult a fertility doctor and get advice that is specific to your body and situation. That said, I wanted to guide you through steps you and your partner can take to improve your fertility fitness and chances of conceiving naturally.

Quit smoking!

Research has linked smoking to reduced egg quality, damaged sperm and early menopause – all of which reduce fertility. Stopping, or at least reducing the amount you smoke, is one of the most important things that you can do for your fertility fitness (as well as for the good of your health more generally).

Check your BMI

Women who are either over or underweight may struggle to conceive as this can cause irregular or entirely absent periods, as detailed by the NHS. Everyone’s optimal weight will be different and this is not another hoop for women to jump through in terms of looking a certain way. Instead, it is about getting your body to a healthy weight to conceive; this typically lies in the BMI range of 20-24.

Adjust your diet

Linked to the above, a healthier and more balanced lifestyle can lead to higher levels of fertility fitness. It is important that both men and women commit to a rich, diverse, and balanced diet. This might include:

  • Avoiding: trans fats and refined sugars which are lacking in nutrition. These are often found in processed food and fast food
  • Choosing healthy fats over low-fat products and trying to hit your 5 a day with fruit and veg
  • Increasing Omega-3 levels which can typically be found in different kinds of fish. Alternative options for vegetarians include: mango, walnuts, flaxseed and hempseed
  • Introducing foods that contain folate, like leafy, green vegetables and brown rice. Women should take a folic acid supplement (this is a key cell for growth and a great way of preparing for pregnancy!)
  • Taking supplements or foods containing: Vitamin D, E, B12, zinc, iron and selenium are another way of preparing for pregnancy and also promote healthy sperm. Always take medical advice however before taking more supplements – not everyone requires additional Vitamin D for example. If you are taking any medication, you should also check with your GP whether this remains safe to take.
  • Swapping: fast-release carbohydrates in favour of slow-release

There are also some foods that it is best to avoid when trying to conceive. These include raw or undercooked meat, liver or other food high in vitamin A, some cheese and pate.

Drink less alcohol

It is not necessary to give up alcohol entirely, but it is important to reduce your intake when trying to conceive. Drinking excessively can affect the quality of sperm so do consult NHS guidelines on alcohol consumption.

Try to relax…

Easy to say but I appreciate this can be very hard to do! Relaxing can almost feel like the hardest piece of advice for someone going through something as emotive and stressful as trying to conceive. Whilst I understand this may be difficult, there are some practical steps you can take to lower your stress levels (not least because when you are stressed, you’re likely to drink or smoke more).

Exercise is crucial for decreasing stress levels and improving sleep. Additionally, it has been shown that exercising for 30 minutes or more, on a daily basis, lessens the risk of infertility from ovulation disorders. Like everything, try to apply moderation – over-exercising can have adverse effects. Try to incorporate exercise into your daily commute – replacing trains and traffic jams with a refreshing cycle or walk. Try to make this a regular part of your day to ensure that you are constantly nurturing your stress and energy levels.

Many find acts of mindfulness and meditation deeply grounding, bringing a sense of calm to their day. Remember – relaxing doesn’t need to be a chore – it’s supposed to be fun. If meditation doesn’t work for you, spend time with friends and family, engage in nature or get immersed in an activity you love. Relaxation is often associated with the luxury of time. However, activities such as meditation and at-home yoga workouts can be as quick or extensive as your day allows.

Other critical factors

Unfortunately, not everything can be improved by lifestyle choices. This is why an awareness of our fertility health is helpful in determining when to seek medical advice and fertility testing. Fertility levels decline with age for both men and women and it is important to be aware of this.

Female fertility levels change significantly from mid-thirties to 40 – where the natural conception rate drops from 20% to 5% per cycle. Here, egg-freezing (the act of conserving healthy eggs) may be useful for those who want to conceive but feel they want more time.

The highly perpetuated media narrative that a man’s age has no impact on fertility levels is simply untrue. A father with an advanced age can lead to later conception, less fertilisation and a higher risk of miscarriages. It is also worth noting that this has a higher impact on the ability of women aged 35 to 40 to conceive. These women’s eggs cannot perform the same function as younger women’s eggs in mending the higher incidence of DNA damage often present in the sperm of older men.

Overall, it is important to pursue a healthy lifestyle to increase your fertility fitness. This is all about prioritising your physical, mental, and nutritional health to prepare for pregnancy and give yourself the optimum chance of conceiving. These tips are intended for both men and women as infertility affects everyone. An investment in your fertility health, combined with an awareness that factors such as age impact your chances of conception, is vital in equipping you with the information needed to boost your fertility fitness to new heights.

Article by Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director, CREATE Fertility and abc ivf.

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