Naturally Improving Ovulatory Dysfunction: Exercise and Physical Activity
Healthy Ovulation plays huge role in maintaining optimal fertility. When Ovulation quality drops or it stops occurring altogether, fertility is then affected.
How does it affect Fertility?
Approximately 30% of the cases of female infertility are estimated to be a result of Ovulatory Dysfunction. Ovulatory dysfunction is defined as any disruption from the normal physiological process that causes the follicle in the ovary to rupture and release a healthy egg that can be fertilized as it travels down the fallopian tube around mid-cycle. If this process stops or becomes inconsistent then the opportunity for fertilization in that cycle is lost.
Signs of Ovulatory Dysfunction:
The easiest way to check if you are ovulating regularly is to use an Ovulation Predictor Kit. Technically, ovulation should occur mid-cycle, but there are always exceptions with some Women having very early ovulation or very late ovulation.
Alternatively, you can use Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Charting to check for a dip and spike in your BBT as you shift from the follicular phase to the luteal phase in your cycle. A way to make this method more accurate is to check for changes in cervical mucus. Approximately 36 hours before ovulation occurs you may notice a more stretchy, almost like egg-yolk, cervical mucus. This is known as spinbarkeit cervical mucus.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is the most common cause of Ovulatory Dysfunction. It can lead to a variety of systemic issues, and disruption of the ovulatory process is just a part of it, but it is one of the main mechanisms by which it affects Fertility. Usually caused by Increased insulin, decreased insulin sensitivity, and increased circulating androgen levels (male hormone).
Physical Activity and its Role in Supporting Healthy Ovulation
Physical activity and Exercise is a double-edged sword when it comes to fertility. What that means is that Vigorous Physical Activity can be extremely helpful to support Ovulatory Function, but if you do too much it can have the opposite effect and shut down ovulation as well. Hakimi and Cameron published a Systematic Review of the effects of Exercise on Ovulation, explaining that 30-60 minutes of vigorous exercise a day was in general beneficial in restoring proper Ovulation in the cycle, however, >60 mins of very difficult exercise a day had the opposite effect. The decrease in Leptin from extreme exercise will shut down the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Gonad axis and turn off the signals for Ovulation.
In Women who experienced Ovulatory Dysfunction, the use of healthy physical activity on a daily basis showed improvement and resolution of Ovulatory Dysfunction for many Women. This may be due to the decrease in Free Androgen Hormone and Insulin in the blood.
This is something I see quite often in a clinical setting as well, where Women with PCOS who went through multiple rounds of In-Vitro-Fertilization (IVF) but unfortunately were unable to conceive later conceived on their own when they started eating healthier and included a healthy amount of exercise to their daily routing.
What Kind of Physical Activity is Beneficial?
No clear studies on this yet, but use your own sound judgement. Do something that challenges you, makes you sweat, leaves you breathing heavier, and gets your heart rate up! Common types of exercise can be going for a run, hitting the gym and lifting some weights, and/or swimming. To get the most bang for your buck, try using High Intensity Interval Training, a growing body of research shows the considerable benefits it offers in a short amount of time. My personal recommendation for an excellent workout, make sure you include Kettlebell swings! But make sure you have a qualified instructor show you how to use them correctly so you don't hurt yourself.