Our lifestyle can have a major impact on our fertility. It has been repeatedly shown that lifestyle factors on their own can improve fertility parameters in men and women.

A large study, printed in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, in 2012, analysed the sperm of 1,683 patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

All of the men participated in a survey about their age, body mass index (BMI), ejaculation frequency, nutrition, sports, sleep habits and social behaviour. Semen samples were collected and evaluated based on MSOME (motile sperm organelle morphology examination) and World Health Organization (WHO) criteria.

The study concluded that a combination of adverse lifestyle factors may have a detrimental effect on sperm count, motility and the amount of cellular fluid in the sperm head, known as vacuole. The combination of these factors may greatly reduce a couple’s chance at a successful and healthy pregnancy

If you’re hoping to get pregnant now or in the future, you might wonder about your fertility and whether you can improve it. Some factors might be beyond your control — such as medical issues that affect female fertility — but that isn’t the end of the story. Your lifestyle choices can affect your fertility, too.

Healthy lifestyle choices can help improve fertility

For example:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or significantly underweight can affect hormone production and inhibit normal ovulation. Maintaining a healthy weight can increase the frequency of ovulation and likelihood of pregnancy. This is something that can be managed and crash dieting is not recommended. Take heed of proper dietary control mechanisms and as a possible reference look to the GI/GL diet.
  • Prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Sexually transmitted infections — such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea — are a leading cause of infertility for both men and women. To protect yourself from STIs, practice safe sex when you are not trying to conceive. Limit your number of sexual partners, and use a condom each time you have sex — or stay in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who isn’t infected.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Although there isn’t enough research to suggest a specific diet to promote fertility or increase the chances of conception, a healthy diet still counts. Good nutrition is an important part of preconception care and will serve you and your baby well during pregnancy. Proper nutritional intake is very important and there is more of this in our other health notes.
  • Schedule regular check-ups. Regular visits to your healthcare provider can help you detect and treat health conditions that might threaten your fertility. We also recommend having a couple of options here. Your G.P. can be a valuable source of information. So too can nutritionists, acupuncturists, counsellors and anybody that can help you feel better and help you in your goals.
  • Manage stress. Some research suggests that stress can lower the odds of conception and cause havoc with your endocrine system. We now know that long term stress can have a serious impact on both male and female fertility. It’s wise to minimise stress and practice healthy coping methods — such as relaxation techniques — when you’re trying to conceive. Yoga and Pilates are always touted as stress relievers. We advocate anything that can give you both peace of mind, such as reading, music, naps, or whatever suits your personality.

What’s off-limits?

To protect your fertility:

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking ages your ovaries and depletes your eggs prematurely. If you smoke, ask your healthcare provider to help you quit. Smoking can have a detrimental impact on all stages of sperm development as well causing more mutations, lower motility and overall count.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of ovulation disorders — and some research has shown that even light drinking might reduce the likelihood of conceiving. If you’d like to get pregnant, consider avoiding alcohol completely. This is the same for the male partner. Alcohol is toxic and even small amounts of alcohol can have a negative impact on the testes and sperm development.
  • Curb caffeine. Although the evidence is mixed, some research suggests that too much caffeine might increase oestrogen production or decrease oestrogen metabolism. To protect your fertility, consider limiting the amount of caffeine in your diet to 200 milligrams a day — about the amount in two 8-ounce (240-milliliter) servings of coffee.
  • Be wary of vigorous physical activity. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle — but too much intense aerobic activity can harm female fertility by inhibiting ovulation and reducing production of the hormone progesterone. If you have a healthy weight and you’re thinking of becoming pregnant soon, consider limiting your aerobic exercise to no more than seven hours a week. If you’re overweight, ask your health care provider how much aerobic activity is OK and get a solid programme that suits you!

What’s the bottom line?

If you’re thinking about becoming pregnant and you’re concerned about the impact of your lifestyle choices on your fertility, consult your healthcare provider. He or she can help you identify ways to improve your fertility and boost your chances of getting pregnant.