Lockdown may have turned us into couch potatoes this past year, so let’s get back on our sport for sperm health-fitness plan. There are so many options when it comes to exercise – so even if you’re not the most active of athletes, you can always find a workout that works for you.
Here we look at some competitive events that have encouraged us to get a sweat on for our sperm health this summer and hear some top tips from fertility specialist, sport fan and founder of Total Fertility, Dr Ed Coats.
Sport for sperm health: Cycling
A lot of people think cycling and male fertility do not go together. And that does make sense – cycling can cause a lot of pressure and heat on the balls which is not ideal for sperm. But the risk may be slightly overstated. Cycling is in general a great form of exercise. It’s a low maintenance way to boost your mood, get your heart pumping, and get some much-needed vitamin D. It may even be pretty good for your swimmers.
A UK study of cyclists found no link between cycling and infertility. The study actually found that men who cycled between 3.75 and 5.75 hours per week had decreased risk of fertility. This means regular cycling may actually be beneficial for your balls.
That being said, cycling can still lead to its infamous sperm damage through overheating and testicular damage. The testes are very heat sensitive and need to be kept around 2-4°C below body temperature to produce sperm. This means while cycling is good for you and may even be good for your fertility, you’ve got to give your balls time to breathe to avoid any sperm damage. You can read all about temperature trauma and how to keep your balls safe in our blog “Testicle Temperature: How Heat Impacts Fertility”.
Dr Ed Coats says: “If you find that your sperm quality is reduced and you are a keen cyclist then you need to look at your exercise routines. Take careful measures to reduce the impact of your cycling on your fertility by introducing shorter duration but more frequent rides as it is the sustained prolonged overheating of the testes will make you more prone to sperm damage. Always take a cool shower after a ride and don’t prolong the time you spend after a ride in synthetic cycling clothing.”
Sport for sperm health: Running
Running is the perfect casual exercise – whether you’re an athlete in training or someone that just fancies a jog around the block. It’s simple and effective cardio which not only benefits the body, but the mind too. Running has been shown to relieve stress as well as improve heart rate and promote weight loss. Considering high stress, blood pressure and being overweight are risk factors for infertility, running is ideal for healthy swimmers. But casual running is pretty different to competitive sprints, so is there a different impact?
There is some evidence to show that intense, high mileage running can bring down the curve. One study found that high mileage runners had lower sperm concentration and motility compared to moderate runners. Another study into long-term intensive treadmill running found that men training at high-intensity had a significant decline in semen quality compared to those training at moderate intensity.
So if you’ve got fertility on the mind, a 20+ hour per week training regime isn’t the best idea. Training for your fertility thankfully isn’t as intensive as training to be a professional. Just 4-8 hours of cardio a week is great for your mind, body and sperm health.
Dr Ed Coats says: “I used to be an International Track and Field Decathlete so I understand the pressures of training and competition. As a fertility doctor though I see the effect that prolonged endurance events like running can have on some men. I would always say manage your exercise schedule and cool the testes whenever you complete a running session. Wear appropriately tight sports underwear during the training session to avoid trauma from repetitive trauma. But always take a cool shower or bath immediately afterwards and wear loose underwear and shorts to aid cooling in this area”
Sport for sperm health: Rugby
Mental health is a big part of male fertility, which means team sports can do a lot of good. Depression, anxiety, and overall heightened levels of stress can lead to low testosterone and low sperm quality.
Team sports can have a great impact on your mental health compared with solo sports. You get a chance to socialise and bond with other people. You may be less likely to overexert or injure yourself as other players can pick up the slack. There’s some evidence to show that athletes who engage in team sports are less likely to have depression or anxiety than those in solo sports.
Stress and anxiety play a big role in your overall health, which means they also impact fertility. Men with higher stress levels often have lower sperm count, volume and concentration. Depression and anxiety can also lead to low sex drive or even erectile dysfunction.
Trying to conceive can be a stressful and demoralising thing for couples, especially if infertility becomes an issue. It’s important to find time for socialising and to develop a support network. Even if it’s just for a weekly game of rugby. Get outside, make some friends, and remember to wear a cup! Contact sports like rugby do come with the risk of injury – and whilst it’s rare, some rugby players have suffered some pretty nasty ruptured testicles on the pitch, definitely not great news for their swimmers.
Dr Ed Coats says: “One of the issues some men discover with their fertility are antibodies that cause sperm to stick together. This prevents them from moving effectively and reduces the chance of success. Repetitive trauma from contact sports such as rugby or running and cycling may increase your chances of this. Always take care to protect your testes from direct trauma.”
Sport for sperm health: Swimming
And the grand finale: swimming!
Swimming may even be the safest sport for your swimmers, which is very fitting. Most other exercises like running, cycling, weightlifting etc cause your body to heat up without much chance to cool down. Any concerns about temperature go double for your testicles, which are often tucked away in tight-fitting shorts. Tight sports shorts are good for keeping everything in place and avoiding injury, but they’re a hotbed for your balls. But unlike these sports, swimming keeps your balls consistently cool.
During summer heatwaves especially, a cool-down exercise can’t be beaten. Aside from its cooling effects, swimming is a great whole-body workout that uses nearly all your muscles. And while there’s little research into the impact of swimming on male fertility, being physically active is what’s really important. Research shows time and time again that regular exercise improves sperm parameters and that men who log a few hours of physical activity every week are more likely to have strong sperm with high concentration.
Swimming hands you the benefits of most solo exercises, but also keeps your testicles safe and cool.
Dr Ed Coats says: “You can’t beat swimming as a safe and easy way to maintain strength and cardiovascular fitness. The bonus of knowing that your testes are protected and kept cool is an added advantage. So if you want your swimmers to become medal winners then get in the pool to keep fit.”
So, what’s the best exercise for male fertility? The truth is that whatever gets you moving is going to encourage healthy sperm production, so get out there this Summer! Your swimmers will thank you for it.