Ever wonder why Pro Female Athletes Rarely get Pregnant?

Did you ever notice how incredibly rare it is to hear about a professional female athlete getting pregnant? The obvious reason would be that they don’t want to. To further their career, they surely take extra precautions against pregnancy. However, scientists have discovered that highly athletic women have a lower rate of fertility.

The reason for it is a lot more simple than you might expect. The human body is programmed to protect itself in many ways. Just a like a computer won’t allow you to run too many memory-intensive programs at once, displaying a message that your memory is too low and to close other programs first, the human body will make every attempt to stop itself from doing something it may consider harmful.


Fertility in Intensely Athletic Women

Reduced Fertility in Athletic WomenAn extremely athletic, fitness minded woman – one who works out intensely for several hours or more each day – will usually find that her ovulation cycle is underactive. This is caused by a trigger in the brain, wherein the body is deeming the person’s lifestyle to be too stressful for human reproduction.

Dr. Richard Paulson is the Director of USC Fertility at University of Southern California, and he says that exercise is good, but in excess, such as high intensity, long distance endurance training, it can have a tremendous effect on a woman’s fertility.

“Extreme exercise, where you’re straining the body, puts stress on the body that can be perceived by the brain as too stressful to allow ovulation to occur,” said Dr. Paulson. His research has shown that “a high level of exercise and low body weight go hand-in-hand and will suppress reproductive access.”

He also noted that, “It doesn’t appear to be the amount of exercise per se so much as the level of intensity. People who exercise at a more moderate pace may be O.K., but competitive athletes who really push themselves are the ones who will often have suppressed reproductive function.”


Fertility in Underweight Women

Studies have also shown that lean women are less fertile, which goes hand in hand with a high rate of athleticism. Research by Danish scientists, published in the American Society of Reproductive Medicine‘s Fertility and Sterility journal, found that physically active women who were overweight or obese did not suffer the same reduction in fecundability.

Pregnancy and exercise expert Dr. Raul Artal is a member a of the International Olympic Committee that oversees the guidelines for pregnant athletes. He described a direct correlation between a woman’s hormone levels and BMI (body mass index), where a BMI under 18 is deemed underweight, and could affect a woman’s fertility.

“They have to gain weight or they won’t be able to ovulate and won’t be able to conceive,” explained Dr. Artal. “We tell these women to decrease their amount of exercise to a maximum of five hours a week.”


Fertility in Older Women

A woman’s age is another relative factor in their likelihood to conceive, although researchers say there is no correlation to fertility levels in older women, and fertility levels in highly active and/or lean women.

“The aging of the eggs would be an independent factor,” said Dr. Paulson. “Add to that a high level of stress which prevents ovulation. One has to do with whether you ovulate or not, and the other has to do with the quality of egg.”

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