Finding focus for fertility
Nutrition, exercise, and check-ups — fitness coach Simrun Chopra walks you through some healthy ways to conceive
CHENNAI: The stigma around infertility and pregnancy in our society is a deterrent to healthy conversation about the topics. While these issues are common in several households, the lack of awareness has unfortunately prevented people from seeking medical advice or obtaining vital knowledge. How much do we know about the various aspects of our lifestyle utrition, exercise, mental health, addictions that have a direct impact on fertility? Recently, certified nutritionist and co-founder of Nourish with Sim, Simrun Chopra took to Nova IVF Fertility’s Instagram live to shed light on the relationship between fitness and fertility.
Why is it necessary to understand nutrition?
When you browse social media, you often come across advice on what to eat or avoid. Unfortunately, people don’t realise that nutrition is not just about what you eat but what you digest and absorb. We have to take note of these things when we critically assess what we are consuming. A healthy individual only absorbs about 90% of what he/she eats, so if you have health issues, you could be absorbing much less. This is why you must understand ‘what is nutrition and why it is important to you’.
When embarking on a fertility journey, what are some important lifestyle changes women must ensure to follow?
Several people are influenced by what they see in movies and think conceiving a child is an overnight process. That is not true. You have to dedicate six months to a year. This is when some may realise that their body is unable to sustain the pregnancy and opt for fertility treatments.
While attempting the treatment, you must be mindful of two factors prepping your body to conceive and ensure high success rates of embryo development, and making sure your body is capable of carrying the pregnancy to term. For both, you have to assess different aspects of your lifestyle.
For example, managing stress. When you are stressed, your body has a fight or flight response. It doesn’t care about your reproduction. It will attend to the baby’s cortisol before creating hormones that support pregnancy, such as estrogen and progesterone. There is much emphasis to be given to resting and sleeping.
When it comes to exercise, women tend to fear it but fitness is important for their health. For example, cardio prepares the body against gestational diabetes; weight training works on muscular health. These work together to lower your insulin resistance and focus on your hormones.
With diets, it is interesting to witness pregnant women instantly give up on certain foods they earlier claimed to be unable to live without. There is a need to realise the importance of preparing before attempting to conceive. You have to ensure your diet is nutritious, consisting of vegetables, fruits, carbohydrates, proteins, micronutrients and also healthy fats. A balanced meal really makes a difference to you and your hormonal health.
What nutrition or lifestyle changes are required for men who are planning to have a child?
The first action would be to consult a doctor; most men avoid this. There are several issues that must be assessed while attempting to conceive type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, too much weight around the midsection, smoking addictions. If you have any of these health concerns, the doctor needs to be aware. According to your condition, you will have to follow the required protocol; it differs according to the issue. There are multiple lifestyle aspects that lend to issues with men inactivity, lack of physical activity, too much fat percentage. Usually, only women are expected to get a check-up but I think both partners should visit a doctor. You need both bodies to perform optimally for conception so the pressure should not be on one person.
How to achieve stress management through fitness?
Fitness, in itself, contributes to stress reduction. When you exercise, there is a certain high you experience due to multiple hormones being released over time. It also focuses on the growth and strengthening of muscles, so through exercise, a lot of glucose is going through the muscles. The amalgamation of these processes makes you feel better. It balances your hormones, which in turn, stabilises your mood.
It is important to see exercise as something you enjoy and create a routine, even if it is for 30 minutes a day. Approaching fitness unenthusiastically is not ideal. Beginning the journey is the tough part. I suggest starting small, it can make a huge difference. However, exercise is simply one facet that requires your attention. You also have to ensure that you allow yourself rest, recovery and some time in the day for your mental health.
Is it okay to attempt cardio workouts while trying to conceive?
Yes, it is beneficial for the body. However, if you have a specific condition, or have attempted IVF, you must consult with a doctor. For most cases without complications, workouts are not restricted. If you fear any negative consequences, you can consult a professional and implement low-impact exercises, such as a 30-minute brisk walk. I recommend at least six days of workout.
How can weight loss help in the fertility journey?
There is abundant research that correlates too much fat percentage to difficulty in conceiving. Even if you manage to conceive with an IVF treatment, we find that if you are overweight, don’t exercise, have low protein or bone density, you could see multiple issues during your pregnancy — nausea, lethargy, excessive fatigue, back pain, body aches. In men, if there is too much fat around the abdomen, you see a higher probability of erectile dysfunction or infertility. For women, it has a direct impact on their hormones, estrogen, progesterone etc., and it contributes to difficulty in conceiving.
I would say the emphasis should not be on weight loss but fat loss while focussing on health. Losing weight through unhealthy means and diets is not ideal for improving health. For example, when you come up with a diet for someone, the need for proteins, fats, micronutrients are different for every person. If you have an issue like high triglycerides, your needs are different from someone with PCOS. The idea of fitness and diet is not to lose weight but to empower your body to be at its best. Exercise, reduced stress and regular consumption of fibre and nutrients help balance estrogen levels. You must implement a healthy lifestyle for at least three months before you even visit a doctor for a prenatal check-up.
Could you talk about misinformation about food and fertility?
One common misconception is the need to cut out carbohydrates completely. Doing so has an adverse effect on your hormonal health. Another thing often misunderstood is the need to lose weight. I’ve seen people doing drastic things to achieve weight loss one meal a day, meal replacements etc. These have an adverse effect on your health parameters. You don’t want to compromise on health for a number on the scale. When a doctor recommends weight loss, it is because your present weight is likely causing an issue. If you wish to drop your fat percentage, it has to be done right, even if it is a slow process. I would definitely recommend disregarding such misinformation if you are looking forward to pregnancy.