How Exercise Affects Sperm Count

According to the National Institutes of Health, recent studies have shown that male sperm count in the Western world is dropping rapidly—by as much as 60 percent in 40 years. And we’re not talking about senior citizens. This is affecting men as young as 30.

More research is required to find out what’s causing such a drastic decline, but diet, obesity, physical activity, environment, pesticides, chemicals, smoking, and stress can all be factors. Luckily, there are some things men can do to help power up their swimmers. For one thing, exercise.

According to Sports Medicine, being overweight and out of shape can negatively effect your sperm count. Your move: Head to the gym several times a week, with a particular focus on moderate intensity continuous training (MICT).

Related: Shop men’s health products, from multivitamins to libido support.

According to a 2016 study in the Journal for the Society of Reproduction and Fertility, in which three kinds of exercise were analyzed in relation to sperm count, it was found that moderate intensity continuous training (MICT) showed the best results. (The other kinds of exercises included high-intensity continuous training (HICT) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT).)

A good example of MICT includes walking or jogging on a treadmill for about 30 minutes per day, three-four days per week, with intensity gradually increasing to 45 minutes per session and never going higher than about 60 percent of max capacity. The goal: Keep your max capacity—especially when doing cardio—to around 40-60 percent, and stick to around 30-45 minutes a few times per week.

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In the case of sperm health, going too hard and too often can actually have negative results, explains Dr. Joseph Purita of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine: “[When you] overdo exercise, what can happen is your body switches into respiration mode and the muscles make lactic acid, which can have bad side effects,” says Purita. “[It can] cause the production of free radicals, which robs your body of energy and can interfere with its biochemical reactions, which in turn affects the body’s production of stem cells—which is connected to sperm production.”

But that doesn’t mean you have to be wary of getting in a great workout. You absolutely can and should keep up your fitness routine. “Exercise can help increase circulation by dilating the blood vessels,” Purita explains. “Which brings more nutrients to the cells and is beneficial in stimulating hormones, which in turn stimulates higher sperm counts.”

Other tips that give your sperm the best shot? Purita recommends a Mediterranean diet—full of whole grains, healthy fish, healthy fats, and greens—along with not smoking and healthy amounts of sleep (seven to nine hours per night).

“The goal is to lower inflammation levels in the body,” he says, “because higher inflammation levels adversely affect stem cells, and ultimately the stem cells are what produce sperm.”

Related: 4 Types Of Foods That Help Fight Inflammation

The Mediterranean diet, getting enough sleep, and not smoking can all reduce inflammation, say various studies. And MICT workouts result in the lowest levels of inflammation, according to the journal Reproduction.  

The bottom line: Eat healthily, exercise moderately, and cultivate good sleeping patterns while you’re still young.