If you want to give yourself the best chance of achieving the dream of starting a family, it pays to get fit for fertility.
Thinking about your pre-conception health is a great opportunity to get in shape mentally and physically. And if you are carrying extra kilos, acting now could provide a real boost to your chances of conceiving.
The links between being overweight or obese and the increased risks of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, have been well publicised. But an unhealthy weight – in either partner – can also have a significant impact on your ability to conceive.
"Obesity can cause problems from conception right through to delivery and beyond," says Genea fertility specialist Dr Antony Lighten.
Being overweight or obese not only reduces the chances of a couple conceiving naturally, but also means fertility treatment, such as IVF, is less likely to be successful. During pregnancy, it can also lead to complications including gestational diabetes and an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, birth defects and obstetric complications.
"An unhealthy weight in both men and women can affect fertility and delay the time it takes for a woman to fall pregnant," says Dr Lighten.
Almost half of Australian women and more than 60 per cent of men are overweight or obese (according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics*). Being underweight can also harm a woman’s ability to conceive.
The main effect of weight on fertility in women is due to a failure to ovulate. In men, obesity can lower sperm counts by up to 50 per cent. Overweight men are also more likely to suffer erectile dysfunction and have a higher rate of DNA fragmentation in sperm.
The good news is that fertility is improved with a relatively modest degree of weight loss or gain.
"Tackling weight problems can have a big impact on your fertility," says Dr Lighten. "Around 90 per cent of obese women will resume ovulation if they lose less than five per cent of their body weight.
In both men and women a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal weight. Dr Lighten recommends aiming for a BMI of less than 30 before trying to conceive or starting IVF treatment.
Genea clinics in Sydney CBD, Liverpool, North West Sydney and Canberra offer couples a 12-week program - called Fertility Fit®. Using a combination of nutrition advice and fitness training, it is aimed at boosting fertility via weight loss and lifestyle changes.
Of couples who took part in a trial of the program, more than half were pregnant within 12 months – either conceiving naturally or with IVF. The average weight loss was 6.3 kg for women and 9.3kg for men.
"Women are often highly motivated to lose weight, once they realise the difference it could make to them achieving their dream of becoming a mother," Dr Lighten adds.
To support couples trying to conceive, Genea will launch a Healthy Eating for Fertility Challenge week commencing in August. To register for a seven-day fertility meal plan and to receive Top Tips from a Genea nutritionist throughout the week, visit genea.com.au/challenge