These 3 lifestyle factors could improve your fertility health
Healthy behaviours form a key pillar in our overall health and wellbeing. But have you thought about how they could impact your fertility health too? We’ve teamed up with The Positive Birth Company to bring you expert information to help nurture your fertility health, whether you’re trying to conceive or not.
In this post we’ll be talking about health behaviours, which make up one aspect of our overall health and wellbeing.
Health behaviours are one thing we have a little bit of control over, as opposed to things like genetics and our social circumstances which also impact our health and wellbeing. Read on to find out how health behaviours are specifically related to fertility to help with conceiving.
1. Relax – it’s good for you!
When we think about health as a subject, the conversation is often around what we eat and how we move our body. But did you know that relaxation is a health-promoting behaviour too? And when it comes to fertility health, relaxation is super important.
“Day to day stresses, especially in this day and age, are unavoidable,” says Dr Tosin Ajayi-Sotubo, a GP who leads a workshop in The Positive Birth Company’s online course The Fertility Pack. “But it’s really important to look at ways of managing that stress. It’s important to take this period as easy as possible and try to find coping and relaxation mechanisms that work for you.”
Whether it’s a massage, an early night, a walk with a friend, all of these gentle forms of relaxation are really important in managing your stress and, in turn, nurturing your fertility health.
And why is this? Fertility nurse Kate Davies (also featured in The Positive Birth Company’s Fertility Pack) explains that while there’s robust evidence to show that stress itself doesn’t impact fertility, it’s the coping mechanisms we use to manage that stress which can have a direct impact.
“If we look at countries where, for example, people are living through war or poverty, many of these countries have some of the highest birth rates in the world,” says Kate. “This tells us that chronic stress does not impact fertility, because our bodies have the amazing ability to adapt.
But should we ignore stress? Absolutely not. Stress can make you feel horrendous, but it’s the indirect effect of stress that can impact on our fertility. And by indirect I mean the things we do when we’re stressed, like drinking alcohol, smoking, over or under-exercising, not getting enough sleep. All of these things can have a direct effect on your fertility.”
If you’re interested in learning more about this then we recommend checking out the amazing work of Professor Jacky Boivine at Cardiff University.
2. Make sure you’re eating enough
In a world that often tells us to cut down on what we’re eating, we’re here to tell you the opposite. Nutrition advice is often focused on what we can take away, recommending people to cut out entire food groups or start restricting and hyper focusing on all the food groups they’re consuming. But this isn’t good for our relationship with food or our fertility health.
“With the Gentle Nutrition approach we’re interested in what we can add into the diet rather than in what we can try to restrict,” explains The Positive Birth Company’s nutrition expert, registered nutritionist Katherine Kimber, from Nude Nutrition.
“When we’re focused on depriving ourselves and restricting ourselves it can set us up into this downward spiral of dieting,” says Katherine. “And this can lead us to feel shame and guilt and anxiety around food. We don’t need that added pressure and added stress at a time when we might be already feeling pressure and facing uncertainties trying to conceive.”
It’s not just the stress of managing food this way that can impact fertility health. Katherine explains that cutting out entire food groups can also impact our nutritional state and take a toll on our bodies. “When it comes to nutrition, it’s better to focus on what we can add into our diet and to make sure we’re giving our bodies a regular supply of food. A common pattern which tends to work well for lots of people is to aim to eat roughly every three hours without leaving too long gaps between eating.”
So, what should you be adding in and making sure you’re getting enough of? You want a balance of all foods, including proteins, fats and fibrous starchy foods too. These are the three main macronutrients. Fibrous starchy foods include fruits, veg, wholegrains, grains, pulses, potatoes.
“These foods include fibre which is really important for our overall gut health,” says Katherine. “It’s also important for bowel movements, cardiovascular health - and fibre has also been linked to higher fertility rates, regardless of age, size or race or other dietary patterns.”
3. Prioritise sleep
Good sleep is key for looking after your health, and this includes fertility health.
“Sleep has a fundamental part to play in moderating our hormones, including those hormones which can influence fertility,” says Katherine. “There is evidence to suggest that when our sleep is disrupted this can affect both sperm and egg quality. Sleep can also impact our hunger hormones too, meaning that when we’re not getting enough sleep our hunger hormones become dysregulated, making it even harder to think about the nutrition stuff.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Rebecca Moore, who leads the mental wellness workshop in The Fertility Pack, agrees: “In general terms for mental wellness, getting enough sleep is really important. Basic sleep hygiene is so important, particularly when you’re planning pregnancy.. Setting a time when you go to bed and doing that consistently, getting up at the same time every day, sleeping in a cool, dark room, limiting screen time before bed, creating a wind down time and building a bedtime routine, all help.”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that health behaviours only form one part of our overall health and wellbeing. Theret are many other factors, which are often outside of our control, that can also play a role.
But if you’re looking for behaviours to nurture both your mind and body, our main tip is to be kind to yourself, slow down if you can, and make sure you’re building lots of self-compassion into your daily routines. In a world that encourages us to be busy all the time, switching off and letting go occasionally is an empowering act.
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