Findings from a recent research study at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences suggest that walking for exercise can help increase a woman's ability to conceive.
The study found that women who kept a regular walking routine had a higher chance of getting pregnant than women who did not walk consistently or at all.
During their research, study authors analyzed the medical records of healthy women who participated in the Effects of Aspirin in Gestation and Reproduction (EAGeR) study. The women ranged from ages 18 to 40 and had a history of one or two pregnancies.
The EAGeR study was led by Enrique Shusterman of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, an organization aimed at promoting healthy pregnancies and healthy children.
The researchers found that there were no connections between most forms of exercise and an increased chance of becoming pregnant for women who had a history of pregnancy loss, but those participants who used walking as a form of exercise had a higher likelihood of becoming pregnant. An increased chance of becoming pregnant was especially true for women who were overweight or obese.
The health records of more than 1,200 participants in the EAGeR study showed that the ability to become pregnant, also known as fecundability, varied considerably according to body mass index.
Women who were overweight or obese who walked for regular, 10-minute intervals showed improvements in fecundability compared to women who did not walk regularly.
Additional research found that women who worked out intensely for more than four hours each week had markedly higher chances of becoming pregnant compared to women who did not exercise at an intense level.
Although the Amherst researchers usually study fertility and pregnancy at the molecular level, they recognize that behavior and lifestyle factors affect many components of health, including the ability to conceive.
Dr. Mona Alqulali agrees.
"Exercising, eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle impacts all of the functions, cells and systems of the body," said Alqulali, a Clinton, Iowa, OB-GYN.
The researchers do not have a clear picture of why high-intensity workouts increase fecundability more than moderate to low-intensity activities.
Although the findings do not yield all the answers, the Amherst study further adds to previous research and recommendations about the benefits of exercise.
The Massachusetts researchers also recognize that their research is limited because the participants may not be indicative of the general population’s ability to conceive, and that exercise habits and intensity vary in women with pregnancy loss and those who have not lost a pregnancy.
Despite the limitations of the study, the researchers are hopeful that their work may hold clues to how lifestyle factors affect conception and pregnancy and help improve the chances of getting pregnant for some women.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 struggle with infertility, a condition defined as difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant.
For many infertile women, the cause of their condition can seem like a mystery.
"There are a lot of reasons behind infertility, and causes can be singular or in combination," Alqulali said.
Causes of infertility can include age, ovulation and menstruation disorders, abnormalities in the reproductive organs, and endometriosis, a condition in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus.
Other things that affect fertility include health conditions such as diabetes, lupus and cancer.
In addition to being obese or overweight, other lifestyle factors that affect fecundability include smoking, alcohol and drug use, being underweight, and living a sedentary lifestyle.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "For women with history of pregnancy loss, walking may aid chance of becoming pregnant." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 May 2018.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats Infertility. 2016.