exercise and sperm health

It’s well known that exercise is an important part of maintaining good health but does too much or too little affect the quality of your sperm? Or equally, does it matter what exercise you do?

It’s very hard to talk about exercise in relation to fertility without discussing the other elements such as diet and lifestyle. This is why the testhim health questionnaire looks to assess all areas of a man’s health and lifestyle to get a true picture of what’s going on. None the less we’ll try and dispel some of the myths around exercise for you here.

Research shows that regular moderate exercise decreases oxidative stress and inflammation and increases antioxidant levels. We know that high levels of oxidative stress and inflammation are detrimental to sperm health and can also lead to higher levels of DNA fragmentation; so doing whatever you can to reduce these is important.

We also know that exercise helps with mood, regulating hormones and blood sugar levels all of which can only be a good thing when trying to conceive.

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Interestingly, when you look at the research some studies have found that too much exercise can be detrimental to sperm health.

For the day to day chaps amongst us it’s unlikely that we’re going to be hitting the sort of level of exercise that is going to be a problem.

However, when you start heading into the realms of competitive sport training such as triathlons, marathons and any sport done to the extreme then this can have a negative impact on sperm health.

Research has shown that in some athletes, training to high levels reduced some hormones that are responsible for sperm production. An article published here was picked up by some researchers questioning whether the hormonal impact of intense training for competitive rowers may have impacted sperm production. 

How much is enough?

As we mentioned above there are a lot of factors when it comes to sperm health and exercise. Your job, stress levels and the type of exercise all play a role.

You could argue that those who have an active job requiring regular movement (think gardener or postman) will need less exercise compared to those who are sat at a desk 8 hours a day!

If you’ve got someone with a sedentary job and terrible diet who says “well, I exercise 3 – 4 times a week” that’s going to be very different to someone who also exercises 3 – 4 times a week but has an active job and eats really well. This is why you can’t take exercise in isolation as a marker of a man’s fertility potential.

Generally, though exercising 3 – 5 times a week should have a positive effect on your health and fertility, but you must also look at diet and other lifestyle factors to get the best effect.

What should I avoid?

One of the big areas of debate around exercise has always been cycling. To this day you’ll still get differing opinions from professionals however a research paper from Wise et al published here showed cycling greater than 5 hours per week was detrimental to sperm concentration and motility.

It seems that any exercise that is going to put undue strain on the body or requires tight lycra and getting excessively hot is likely to have a negative affect on your sperm health.

Some exercise, unfortunately, attracts the use of substances to enhance performance or muscle growth and these should definitely be flagged as potentially damaging to sperm. The main one of concern is anabolic steroids which has the potential for long lasting, and sometimes permanent, negative effects on sperm production. It is strongly recommended that you properly investigate any bulking products or energy products before taking them as some of these can contain things that aren’t good for sperm health.

The overall picture really seems to be one of balance and moderation. Overdoing it or not doing anything at all will both have a negative effect on your overall health and fertility.

Getting regular exercise is key to managing weight, stress levels and will have many positive effects whilst also potentially improving your sperm quality. Getting a variety of exercise is important too. Don’t just stick to running or sitting on a bike, make sure you mix it up and consider things like yoga, walking, HIIT workouts or swimming to get variety into what you’re doing.  

If you’re someone who’s struggling with exercise or don’t know how to get started check out our support page where we have a link to Ciaran Hannington who offers 1:1 support to men wanting to improve their health and fertility through exercise.