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Exercise-Induced Infertility

It also appears that proper nutrition and caloric intake during exercise plays a key role in menstrual health. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh gave monkeys, who have menstrual cycles very similar to women, a fixed amount of food and trained them to run on treadmills. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that "there were no significant changes in body weight or caloric intake over the course of training and the development of amenorrhea." Although the monkeys' body weight did not change, their metabolic hormones decreased, suggesting that the suppression of ovulation is more closely related to a "negative energy balance" than to a decrease in body weight. The researchers then provided four of the eight monkeys with additional food while maintaining their exercise program. All the monkeys eventually resumed normal menstrual cycles; however, the monkeys who increased their food consumption rapidly and consumed the most food resumed ovulation within as little as 12 to 16 days, while those who increased their caloric intake more slowly and ate less food took almost two months to resume ovulation.

Recent research has indicated that men aren't immune to exercise-induced infertility. According to a new study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, men who regularly work out to the point of exhaustion can suffer from lowered fertility. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Cordoba, Spain, confirmed past research on the relationship between exhaustion, sperm count and hormone levels. Men who over-exercise and become under-weight can also experience lower sperm motility and poor sperm morphology.

In addition, men who hope to conceive should not take anabolic steroids, even if they are legal and purchased at health food stores in the form of androstenedoine. While these substances can increase muscle mass, they can also shrink testicles, lower sperm count, and cause liver disease and early heart attacks. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, men and women trying to conceive should not run more than 10 miles a week, and men should not mountain bike for more than two hours, six times a week.

It is also clear that finding a healthy balance between training and diet is essential. This may involve reducing training mileage and/or increasing caloric intake. A few, very minor changes in training and diet can not only reverse amenorrhea, but have been found in studies to improve athletic performance. In fact, adding just one complete rest day per week and increasing caloric intake by as little as 350 calories per day can reverse amenorrhea in some women.

The bottom line is that the benefits of moderate, regular exercise far outweigh the risks - just be sure to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest, and maintain a healthy weight. And remember that any fertility changes brought about by heavy-duty exercise can be temporary. After two or three days of rest, men have been shown to normalize their sperm counts and hormone levels, and when women stop exercising or cut back on their training schedule, ovulation may resume in several months.

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