September 20, 2014
Preconception Health: Exercise, Sleep, and Stress Management
© Jessica Verlade, Bicycle Love,

So far, we've covered what to avoid for preconception health, and what to nutritionally include for preconception health, but what about the rest of lifestyle management for preconception health? Does it really make a difference for your reproductive health if you exercise, sleep well, and manage your stress? Yes, and here's one of the reasons why. Take a look at this...

"Between 1990-1993, Foresight, a British medical association for the promotion of preconception conducted a study using a nutritional and lifestyle modification preconception care program. The results were remarkable. There was a tenfold reduction in the expected incidence of miscarriage and birth defects and over 80% success rate with unexplained fertility. It was evaluated that before the study was started, 60% of the women drank alcohol regularly and 57% of the women involved were previously smokers. Out of the 367 couple in the study, 327 (89%) of them successful became pregnant and 327 children were born. Among the 204 couple with infertility problems, 175 (86%) were able to achieve a healthy pregnancy (1)." "One of the most significant aspects of these results was the involvement of both partners in the program—both male and female factors were concurrently addressed. In addition to nutritional supplementation, the study included lifestyle and social modifications (1). A number of the couples had already tried IVF without success. Yet 65% of this group conceived naturally (2)."

Convinced? We recommend that you start your nutrition and lifestyle change for preconception health 3-6 months before trying to conceive. Ideally, start 1 year before trying to conceive.

Exercise and Movement

The goal is movement daily with intentional exercise 4-7 times per week, at least 30 minutes per session. If you prefer yoga or hiking to a gym workout, that's fine with us! We think it is important that you include some resistance exercise (isolation in yoga and hiking cross country absolutely counts) and some endurance exercise. The endurance exercise does not have to be a 6-mile uphill run, but it does need to get your heart rate up. Remember that sweating is detoxifying for your body.

In addition to exercise, it's crucial that you drink enough water to replenish your body. You should be drinking at least half your body weight in fluid ounces of water daily, but add more if you exercise for more than 30 minutes.

Do you drink coffee before your workouts? Remember that for every 8 oz (1 cup) of coffee you need 16 oz (2 cups) of water to get you back to zero before you start into your needs for the day. Be careful with coffee consumption as it has been linked to subfertility and delayed conception (3).

Exercise Recommendations for Preconception Health:

  1. Exercise 4-7 times per week and include both resistance and endurance exercise.
  2. Sweat (for detoxification)
  3. Drink enough water to replenish your body.

Sleep Management

We all need to sleep. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a torture tactic! It causes you to go crazy if you don't have enough of it. What does that mean? It means that sleep is a nutrient; just like the healthy food you eat.

If you don't sleep, you wake up in emergency mode, where all the decisions that you make that day, whether it's food, communication, or clothes choices are based off of one single fact. You are living in a deficit from lack of sleep. You will choose foods that raise your blood sugar quickly, leaving you feeling high for a moment, just to crash you down.

This imbalance leads to cravings, sugar crashes, afternoon fatigue, eventually insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and possibly diabetes. Stop the cycle! End it now. The height of your liver detoxification and cell reparation happens from 11:00pm to 4:00am each night. Start your nighttime sleep process by no later than 10:00, allowing you enough time to retrain your body to sleep by 11:00. Your brain, liver, and fertility will thank you for it.

Healthy Sleep Hygiene Can Include:

  1. Focus on magnesium rich foods like pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens, broccoli, basil, cucumber, and flaxseeds.
  2. Take supplemental magnesium (we like magnesium bis-glycinate), 200-400mg before bedtime.
  3. Focus on foods that help you make serotonin. Serotonin, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, helps you make melatonin. Melatonin helps you get to sleep.
    1. Foods rich in Tryptophan: Shrimp, Cod, Mushrooms, Chicken, Spinach, Turkey, Almonds, Salmon, Asparagus, Broccoli
    2. Foods rich in Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Mushrooms, Tuna, Salmon, Lamb, Tomatoes, Summer Squash, Green Peas, Collard Greens
  4. Make lifestyle choices that help you make serotonin like exercise and spending time in the sun.
  5. Choose nutrients that help support your gut like probiotics, selenium, omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, glutamine, and vitamin A, E, and C. The largest site of serotonin synthesis happens in your GI tract not in your brain.
  6. Take a bath with epsom salt and lavender oil.
  7. Turn off all electronics in your room at night.
  8. Black out your room. There should be no lights, including alarm clocks. Any light can hit the back of your retina, which stimulates brain activity.
  9. Prayer or meditation before bedtime.

Stress Management

© Sarah Williamson, Yoga,

Remember that chronic stress is a feed-forward loop in our body. This is different from most all of our other systems in our bodies (which are feedback loops, meaning at some point they stop.)

Chronic stress perpetuates a process that ultimately continues to do damage well after a stressful event has occurred. When we make too much cortisol and too much adrenaline, our blood sugar increases and we become insulin resistant, predisposing us to accumulate more fat mass. This hormonal imbalance can cause a myriad of common health problems: obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and infertility, to name a few.

When our stress is unmanaged, we run the risk of doing damage to an area of our brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus regulates nerve cell production throughout life, and is responsible for our memory.

Some people use saunas as a way to detox and reduce stress. Men have to pay close attention to heat and sperm health. Men and women have to also be careful to never use the towel that they are sitting on in the sauna to dry off after the sauna. Why? All that sweating equals detoxification and release of toxins. Don't wipe yourself down with your own toxicity. Use a fresh towel to dry off and wash the toxic towel.

© Alice Popkorn, Meditation,

These are some suggested activities to help manage your stress for preconception health:

  • journaling
  • singing
  • exercise and movement
  • dancing
  • praying or meditation
  • drinking tea
  • taking a bath
  • spending time with loved ones
  • talking with friends and family
  • massage
  • asking for and receiving help
  • sleeping
  • designated 30 minute relaxation window during the day
  • guided imagery
  • mindfulness

Remember this, "The spirit in which you do something is often more important than the act itself (4)." Mindfulness is the daily grind to make any type of lifestyle change. Don't just go through the motions, and hope that one day you will be different. Empowered decisions help make the necessary change for the health of you and your family.

The choices that you make now will help teach your child the healthy way to meet any adversity that may come their way. The steps that you take now will have a generational health impact on your family.

Have a happy and healthy day!

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1: Hywood, J., Romm, A., Botanical Medicine for Women's Health, Fertility Challenges, 343, Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, St. Louis, MI, 2010.

2: Curtis K, Savitz D, Arbuckle T: Effects of smoking, caffeine consumption, and alcohol intake on fecundability, AM J Epidemiol 146(1): 12-41, 1997.

3: Foresight, Natural Fertility and Preconception Care, August 2014.

4: Williams, M., Penman, D., Mindfulness, Week 3: The Mouse in the Maze, 114, New York, NY, Rodale, 2011

Posted on Sep 20, 2014