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Strenuous Exercise Temporarily Decreases Fertility

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

A study from NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) suggested that the combination of strenuous workouts and achieving pregnancy may be too much for the body to handle. Therefore, female athletes or heavy exercisers may want to ease up a little if they want to become pregnant.

It is well known that women who are involved in elite sports struggle with fertility more than others. Now it appears that women who participate in other types of extreme exercise may encounter more fertility problems as well. In a study that included 3,000 women, researchers at NTNU discovered that frequent and strenuous exercise may reduce fertility – but only temporarily, or while the hard training lasts.

None of the women in the study had experienced a history of problems with fertility, and all of them were of childbearing age and in good health. Two groups of women showed a higher risk of fertility problems: those who trained nearly every day, and the ones who exercised until they were completely exhausted. The ones who fell into both groups experienced the most fertility problems.

In addition, the effects of strenuous exercise on fertility appear to be transient, ending when the hard training slowed down.

The theory is that extremely demanding physical activity requires so much energy that the body can actually experience periods of a deficiency of energy, in which the amount of energy needed to maintain the mechanisms, hormonal and otherwise, to enable fertilization just isn’t there.

It is important to note that women who engaged in low to moderate activity had no fertility impairments, so there is no reason for women to stop exercising altogether while trying to conceive. In fact, exercise can reduce stress, which is good for fertility. Moderate exercise has been previously shown to improve insulin function and promote better fertility as compared to complete inactivity.

It appears that the worst choices for women trying to conceive fall at both ends of the spectrum: extreme physical activity and extreme sedentariness. Pinpointing what constitutes the perfect level of activity, however, can be tricky, because it can be unique to individual women. If your menstrual cycle is particularly long or nonexistent, this could be a sign that you are exercising enough to negatively affect your fertility.

A woman is considered to be infertile after a year of unprotected intercourse without a pregnancy occurring. In women older than 35, it makes sense to see a doctor sooner; perhaps after four to six months of trying unsuccessfully to conceive. There are many factors that can affect fertility in women, including problems with the fallopian tubes, the ovaries, or the uterus, problems with ovulation, and hormonal issues. Sometimes the reason for infertility cannot be pinpointed, and sometimes it may the male partner who has the fertility problem and not the woman. A doctor’s evaluation is the only way to find out for sure.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Exercise May Spell Relief for Migraine Sufferers

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Some people who suffer from migraines say that exercise can bring on the severe headaches, but a recent study shows the opposite – that exercise may, in fact, help prevent them. In the study, three groups of participants were observed. One group took the drug topiramate, which is commonly prescribed for migraines; one group practiced relaxation exercises; and one group exercised for 40 minutes three times a week.

After three months, no significant difference was observed between the groups in terms of the presence of migraines. All three groups showed a decrease in the number of migraines they got, suggesting that exercise may be just as effective as drugs at preventing migraines.

For people who know all too well the pain and misery of a migraine, it’s worth a try. It’s probably true that there is no one “right” approach that works for everyone; different people will find that different approaches are effective for them and some trial and error is inevitable in most cases. What is true is that as long as you have no physical contraindications, exercise usually won’t hurt and is a safe and healthy activity for most people.

Migraines can be difficult to diagnose, as they have several variants. In general, they are severe and even disabling headaches affecting about 22% of women and about 10% of men. Migraines can affect a person’s ability to go about his or her daily routine for hours or even days at a time and can be difficult to treat, so the information that exercise may help prevent them is good news for those who haven’t had much success with drug treatments or relaxation exercises.

A typical migraine can produce severe, throbbing pain, visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sound and/or light. Many people find that once they have a headache, physical activity can make it worse, so finding ways to prevent migraines is important. Migraines may occur anywhere from once a year to several times a month.

The exact cause of migraines is not well understood. There is no shortage of theories, however, and they range from changes in the trigeminal nerve (a main facial nerve) to serotonin imbalance. Food sensitivity may play a role in some individuals. Another factor, particularly in women, may be hormonal fluctuations. Stress and heredity are also suspects in some cases. Still other possible triggers include sleep disturbances, barometric pressure changes, altitude changes, bright flashing lights, and strong smells such as gasoline or paint.

There are two main types of drug treatment used by migraine patients: those that treat an existing migraine and those that aim to prevent migraines from occurring in the first place. In individuals who have found that they aren’t responsive to drug treatments, regular exercise just may provide a new avenue to explore for the prevention of the debilitating headaches.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Heart Attack Risk Peaks after Sex or Exercise – Especially if Activity Is Sporadic

Monday, September 9th, 2013

It’s common knowledge these days that regular exercise and an active sex life are heart-healthy. But have you ever wondered whether all that huffing and puffing was stressing your heart rather than strengthening it? That’s exactly what a recent study aimed to answer. Doctors have known for a long time that physical or psychological stress can trigger heart attacks, but how does this reconcile with the conventional wisdom that exercise is actually good for your heart?

Turns out, both assertions are correct. The risk of a heart attack does indeed rise immediately following strenuous exercise or sex, but only for an hour or so, and only if you do not engage in these activities on a regular basis.

Researchers found that any physical exertion, such as having sex, running, or climbing stairs, raised heart attack risk 3.5 times higher than during periods of rest. During sex, the risk is 2.7 times higher. The risk of dying from a heart attack is five times greater immediately following physical exertion than when you are resting.

However, you should not misinterpret these findings to mean that you should not exercise. The risk is still transient and very low, while the overall benefits of exercise remain compelling. The temporary risk of heart attack after exercise is limited to a one- to two-hour window, while the cumulative benefits of exercise can actually reduce your overall risk of having a heart-related episode. And, the more regularly you exercise (or have sex), the less elevated your risk is after each period of exertion.

It may seem strange to think that activities that pose short-term risks after each occurrence are actually healthy when cumulative effects are measured, but that is the case with exercise, sex, and heart disease. Keep in mind that regular exercisers experienced a smaller increase in risk after these behaviors. For every additional episode of physical activity a person implemented each week, heart attack risk dropped by 45%.

The bottom line is that if you are not a regular exerciser, you should be. Most of us experience occasional bouts of physical activity. You can attenuate your risk of heart attack following workouts by making sure they occur more often. Start your exercise routine gradually to avoid raising your heart attack risk as much as possible. Keep in mind that if you have been completely sedentary, even climbing a flight of stairs could qualify as enough physical activity to raise your heart attack risk.

For these reasons, starting an exercise program under a doctor’s supervision is vital. As you get into a routine of working out and your body becomes accustomed to the activity, your risk of having an exercise-induced heart attack drops more and more. Make the effort to get at least a moderate amount of exercise daily so that your heart is healthier and your sex life is safer – and better.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

How Exercise Can Cure the Postpartum Blues

Monday, April 1st, 2013

There’s no way around it. Exercise is an effective solution for many of life’s common problems. Many women are constantly trying to find shortcut answers to their ailments, but there is really no alternative for a good old-fashioned workout. Obesity isn’t the only thing that exercise can reverse. Many experts agree that physical activity is an excellent solution for people who are struggling with depression. Since exercise releases endorphins into the brain, it can raise the spirits against all odds. Therefore, it’s no surprise that studies show exercise is a suitable cure for postpartum depression.

Don’t be ashamed if you’re feeling depressed after you give birth. It’s a common problem, and the reasons are clinical. Many of my patients worry that they are already being insufficient parents by feeling unhappy in their first few weeks of motherhood. Let your doctor know right away if you’re having these feelings, especially if they are severe. Once you’re on a treatment plan and are getting help for the problem, you should begin exercising regularly.

Postpartum depression is sometimes simply a misconception of the most common postpartum symptoms. Fatigue, trouble sleeping, a lack of concentration, and irritability are all likely after you’ve given birth. Since these are common signs of depression, you might assume it’s such. Since exercise will give you more energy, help you sleep better, and relieve some negative feelings, it is an easy cure. Additionally, many new moms say that their postpartum depression is partly a result of the isolation they feel when they are at home all day with the baby. Especially after a busy, working lifestyle, the schedule of a stay at home mom can be saddening. Exercise will not only offer a burst of endorphins, but it will also give you an opportunity to spend time with other women in your area at the gym or on the local track.

Postpartum depression can hit even the most excitable new moms, so don’t be surprised if you’re feeling the new baby blues in the weeks following your labor. While you should certainly follow whatever treatment plan your doctor recommends, you should also try getting into an exercise routine. It will improve your mood more than you might think, and the alone time itself will help you clear your head and find your happy place once again.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Exercise Beats Cancer

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

With more than 40% of Americans diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, it’s highly likely that you or someone you know has experienced cancer.  For this reason, we have put a lot of effort into finding cures and treatments for this devastating disease, and now, we are finally seeing some glimmer of hope in the statistics, especially in terms of prevention.  It seems that an active lifestyle, a healthy weight, and a smart diet can do a lot to reduce the risk of cancer.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, 1/3 of cancers can actually be prevented if Americans were to commit to being physically active every day for at least 30 minutes, if they were to maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives, and if their diet would include mostly plant foods, limited red meat, and as little processed meat as possible.  If that’s not enough motivation to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle, I don’t know what is!  Unfortunately, the American diet is packed with processed meats and other unhealthy foods and our culture is getting less active by the generation.  Hopefully, these statistics are enough to create a paradigm shift and force Americans to look at the long-term effects of their choices.

For those of us in our middle-aged years already, much of the damage has already been done, but that doesn’t mean we can’t turn it around.  In fact, a recent study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute revealed that physical activity was linked to lower rates of breast and colon cancer deaths.  They found that cancer survivors, particularly breast cancer survivors, enjoyed longer lives when they exercised regularly, as compared to those who did not.  Exercise was also found to prevent reoccurring cancers. They believe the results stem from the way regular exercise effects insulin levels, inflammation, and immunity, but more studies are planned to better understand these recent results.

Between our American lifestyle, family histories, and the sheer prevalence of the disease, our risk factors for cancer only seem to be going up.  Now that we know that simply being healthy is just one way to reduce our risk though, maybe we can finally commit to getting out there and getting active.  How many more reasons do we need to take care of ourselves.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.