IVF#2: To Exercise, or Not to Exercise?

This question plagues me every single time we get close to an FET/IVF/TWW, and to be honest, I am no where closer to a solid answer on this.

As most of you know, I am a very physically active person. I played multiple sports on a competitive level. My regular schedule of activity before TTC was intense hockey games 2-3 days a week, plus weight lifting 3-4 days a week. My body loved it, my mind loved it. Sometimes I wonder if that’s how I managed to keep my depression at bay without meds for so long.

When we started doing the IUIs, I continued playing hockey twice a week, weight lifted 2-3 days a week, and limited my exercise to regular daily activities during the TWW (no hockey, no weights). In between BFN’s, I would go back to playing hockey and lifting. In total, I had 4 BFNs from IUIs.

When we moved to IVF last year, I went down to playing ice hockey once a week, and continued weight lifting. Once my ovaries started becoming palpable from the outside (approx stim day 8), I stopped everything except for walking the dogs. We got lots of eggs that round. 21 mature –> 14 fertilized –> 7 day five blastocysts.

Embryo transfers 1 and 2 were DW’s, and she weight lifted once a week plus dog walks before the fresh transfer, and only dog walks during her TWW. After her 5 week miscarriage she joined me back playing hockey once a week. After her second transfer, she only did dog walks, until her miscarriage again at 5 weeks.

Prior to embryo transfer #3, I was playing ball hockey twice a week, and walking the dogs almost daily until the TWW. During pregnancy, I only did dog walks a couple of days a week, until 6 weeks when I went back to weight lifting, and then miscarried sometime during week 7/8.

I returned to the gym a week after my D&C at week 9, and for three months, lifted heavy weights and did compound lifts (squats, deadlifts) 3-4 days a week. I also did sprints 2 days a week. This is until embryo transfer #4, after which I did nothing but dog walks.

After embryo transfer #4 = BFN, I look two weeks off due to being depressed and Christmas holidays. For the past two weeks, I have been working through this high volume fitness competition program. I am on week three of the muscle building phase. Since I started it, I’ve packed on three pounds, but it’s hard to know if it’s just water weight from re-introducing carbs (from 15% to 35% of my macros), muscle mass, or gosh fat (from eating nearly 500 more calories daily than before). I am loving the program so far, and find that I am so hungry even with the increase in calories (from more muscles?), but realize that I shouldn’t be continuing this program once I start stims. The program has me lifting for 90 minutes 6 days a week, plus the 3 days of cardio that I’m not doing (I don’t want to create a calorie deficit). I realize that this is too much, and too frequent for a body trying to optimize reproduction.

Now, I’m trying to decide whether to limit myself to dog walks soon, or whether it’s safe to keep lifting, but at a much lighter resistance.

During my research, I find things like this, which has me thinking that since I have worked out regularly for over 15 years now, no matter what I do, my outcome will be the same. This study essentially says that women who have a history of exercising regularly for five or more years generally have poorer outcomes than sedentary women, regardless of if they exercised during IVF or not.

Then of course, there’s this, which has me totally thinking that I shouldn’t exercise during the first 18 weeks of pregnancy because of the greater risk of miscarriage, but then confuses me by showing studies that say exercise helps to prevent miscarriage. Though, neither really matters to me right now because my concern is about IVF outcomes.

The alternative medicine doctor part of me thinks that all strenuous activity (things that make you sweat, hold your breath, increase your intraabdominal pressure) should take a back seat during stims and the TWW because these kinds of activities drain the resources (Qi) needed to make and nourish developing eggs/embryos. From a primal/paleo perspective, these activities would mimic the unfavourable conditions of running away from predators, or having to hunt/forage, both of which indicate to the body that right now food is scarce and not a good time for baby making. Also, heavy lifting encourages the cycle of muscle damage and repair, which is the basis of muscle building. This increases the oxidative load on the body, and the resultant increase in metabolism increases the amount of free radicals floating around, which is also bad.

As for light exercise such as walking, and light cleaning, I believe these activities are good during stims and the TWW. They increase the circulation through the body, and get some good endorphins flowing.

What I would love to see is a study comparing consecutive IVF cycles- one with exercise and one without, with identical treatment plans, and what the resultant embryo numbers and qualities are. Too bad I can’t find anything like that, as it would shed some light on what I should do.

What I do Know
– I have already stopped doing cardio because it is counterproductive to try to burn calories
– I will keep my calories the same as right now (well-fed and higher than maintenance).
– I will definitely not put myself at risk of ovarian torsion.
– I will not exercise while my ovaries are healing from egg retrieval (last time took two weeks to have a non-painful poop)

Those of you who have done IVF- what kind of activity did you maintain during your stims? What kind of outcome did you have from your IVF? What would you do if you had to do IVF again? What was recommended to you by your RE?