Whether you’ve yet to meet someone to construct a family with, or you have significant objectives you want to achieve before plunging into parenthood, you may be attracted to investing in your fertility. And if so, you would be far from alone. The process of cryopreserving your eggs or embryos has soared in the past decade. The most recent statistics from 2020 show that the total number of cycles for freezing eggs in the U.S. has increased by over 104 percent since 2009, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
Setting your eggs or embryos aside for future use sounds like potentially the greatest present you could give your future self. However, the process can be exhausting for your body, mind, and spirit.
“Egg freezing is as much a psychological and emotional journey as it is a physical journey,” says Jasmine Pedroso, M.D., FACOG, and OB-GYN for Kindbody based in San Francisco. “If exercise plays a large role in managing your stress levels, it’s important to continue.”
But considering the hazards of overexertion during an egg freezing cycle, adjustments are necessary, says Dr. Pedroso. Yet, it can be challenging to precisely determine what a safe workout should resemble — and to determine which workout routines are truly advantageous for your well-being while undergoing fertility treatment. Here, Dr. Pedroso and other experts provide clarity on how you can safely engage in physical exercise while going through an egg or embryo freezing cycle.
What Occurs During an Egg Freezing Cycle
A quick overview of what you can anticipate during an egg or embryo (aka fertilized egg) freezing experience: Depending on your age, menstrual cycles, preferred timing, and other factors, your process begins either when you get your period or after being on a course of birth control pills. Then, for 10 to 14 days, you’ll administer yourself nightly injections of medication. While the specific medications your doctor prescribes depend on your individual biology, they usually include a follicle-stimulating hormone (FYI, follicles are small sacs inside the ovaries that fill with fluid and contain developing eggs). This injection stimulates your ovaries to produce multiple mature eggs (as opposed to the one egg that’s typically released during ovulation, which occurs once a month around day 14 of your cycle). Your medications will also include an antagonist, which prevents your body from ovulating early and releasing eggs before your scheduled egg retrieval.
Once your follicles have grown to about 12-19 mm in diameter, you’ll administer a “trigger” shot of human chorionic gonadotropin, which initiates the process of assisting eggs in maturing. Then, you’ll undergo egg retrieval, during which an ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina to identify developing eggs, which are then removed using a suction device. On the day you do the retrieval, eggs are identified as mature by inspecting under a microscope to see if a small cell (known as the polar body) is visible in the shell of the egg.
Ultimately, contingent on whether or not an individual has made a decision regarding a sperm provider, the fully developed eggs are either preserved or fecundated (in order to transform into embryos) and subsequently retained through freezing.
How the Physical Side Effects of Egg Freezing Impact Your Exercise
With a multitude of factors involved in an egg-freezing cycle, you may be curious about how the medications and procedures will affect your ability to engage in physical activity. Here, specialists share the physical symptoms and side effects that you may encounter while freezing your eggs and how they can influence your ability to exercise safely and comfortably.
You’ll undergo bloating and abdominal pressure.
The fertility medications cause the ovaries to enlarge from the size of strawberries to potentially the size of grapefruits, depending on the number of follicles developing during the process, explains Jessica Ryniec, M.D., ob-gyn, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at CCRM Fertility in Boston. “With this increase in ovarian size, you may experience bloating and pressure — such as a sensation of fullness,” she explains. This side effect can induce more fatigue than usual, prompting you to slow down your regular workout routine.
There is a risk of ovarian torsion.
When it comes to providing advice on exercising during an egg or embryo freezing cycle, doctors have the most concern about the possibility of ovarian torsion.
“The expansion of your ovaries throughout the egg freezing process increases their vulnerability to twisting and compromising their blood supply,” explains Dr. Pedroso. “Although rare, this not only causes severe pain but also constitutes a surgical emergency that can result in the loss of ovarian function.”
Due to this, your doctor will discourage high-impact workouts during an egg-freezing cycle. “It is generally not recommended for individuals to engage in exceptionally vigorous activities, as they increase the risk of torsion,” says Dr. Ryniec. She adds that this advice applies during ovarian stimulation and for approximately 10 days after egg retrieval while the ovaries recover.
6 Methods to Adapt Your Workouts During Egg or Embryo Freezing
As you begin receiving injections and your follicles start to grow, your healthcare provider will likely urge you to stick with low-impact exercise. After all, physical activity can enhance blood circulation and potentially improve your well-being throughout the process, says Dr. Ryniec.
One crucial aspect to remember is that ovarian stimulation heightens the risk of dehydration, notes Sheeva Talebian, M.D., board-certified reproductive endocrinologist with CCRM New York. Thus, when you engage in physical activity, it’s important to hydrate adequately — even beyond what you believe is necessary — and increase your intake of electrolytes.
Here, explore safe and potentially advantageous ways to move your body during an egg or embryo freezing cycle. Of course, always consult with your healthcare provider prior to initiating a new workout or modifying your exercise routine.
Take a leisurely stroll outdoors.
Engaging in a relaxed-paced walk isn’t just a delightful way to experience fresh air and enhance your mood — it’s also one of the most commonly recommended workouts for individuals freezing their eggs, according to the interviewed experts.
You might hit a local path or simply stroll to a destination versus driving while running an errand, says Shannon Decker, ISSA-certified trainer and pre- and postnatal fitness specialist. “It might be the final thing you want to do, but it is safe, can be done anytime, and will make you feel better physically and mentally,” she says. Walking can be made even more enjoyable by meeting up with a walking buddy, calling a friend to catch up, or listening to a podcast, she adds.
Engage in inclined walking on a treadmill.
If you’re missing out on that beloved HIIT class and feel like you need a cardio fix during your egg freezing cycle, choose inclined walking on a treadmill for about 20 to 30 minutes. Inclined walking will support healthy blood circulation and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which might be on the rise from the heightened stress of the egg or embryo freezing process, explains Katie Breard, pre- and postnatal training specialist. “Low-impact cardiovascular movement, [such as] inclined walking, is also great for aiding digestion, which can be significantly slowed by [your medications],” she says.
Plus, even a slight incline will activate your hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles, says Maggie Priore, NASM-certified personal trainer and pre- and postnatal fitness specialist. “Just maintain a moderate pace to avoid bouncing [and impact] and running,” she notes.
Take a swim.
If you have access to a pool, you’ll do well to take a dip — another form of movement that’s highly favored by Breard. Not only is it gentle on your joints, but you burn about 250 calories for 30 minutes of swimming, she says.
There’s a spiritual benefit of swimming to consider as well, according to Darby McCullough, E-RYT 500, yoga teacher and Y7 instructor. “Water is associated with the sacral chakra, located at the lower belly and inner pelvis and tied to reproductive health,” she explains. “So swimming can be a wonderful way to tune into and support that energy, which is heightened and often taxed during an egg or embryo freezing cycle.”
Increase your stretching and foam rolling.
While it might not sound like a “workout,” per se, any complete fitness routine involves recovery practices that will strengthen flexibility. Consider the egg freezing process as an opportunity to commit to this part of your routine. Most of Priore’s clients undergoing fertility treatment begin sessions with gentle stretching, foam rolling, and potentially using a massage gun or myofascial release techniques, which relieves tight connective tissue and reduces inflammation, she notes.
Both methods are also extremely beneficial for circulation and to get the body in motion, especially when you’re feeling achy and fatigued,” she highlights.
Lift lighter in a modified position.
“Strength training in a seated or standing position that does not involve bending, leaping, or twisting can be safe throughout,” points out Dr. Talebian, who suggests avoiding heavy lifting.
And depending on how you feel, you might prefer to concentrate on upper body exercises, such as standing triceps extensions, bicep curls, and shoulder presses, which don’t involve twisting or exerting pressure on the core, notes Priore. Reminder: Exerting pressure on the core could lead to ovarian torsion and affect your ovarian function during fertility treatment and beyond.
Engage in restorative yoga.
“Yoga and breathwork are excellent at rebalancing our hormones as well as the endocrine and lymphatic systems — both of which retain stress and tension,” says McCullough. However, avoid any Vinyasa and/or heated classes where you perspire excessively and perform inversions, as these may increase the risk of ovarian torsion.
Instead, McCullough suggests participating in a Yin yoga class, a practice that entails holding passive poses to improve flexibility. “A slow, deep practice, such as Yin — or Hatha — can truly help regulate your breath, balance your mood, and decrease cortisol,” she notes. It is also advisable to work with an experienced yoga teacher who is open to discussing and guiding you through variations so that you don’t feel pressured to contort yourself into uncomfortable positions.
The Main Takeaway On Exercise During Egg Freezing
Ultimately, it is important to listen to your body to determine which movements are advisable — and which ones should be put on hold. “If it’s stressful, if you become too breathless, if you feel like you’re pushing too hard, it might be best to avoid it,” says McCullough. Going through an egg or embryo freezing cycle is a time to stay within your comfort zone, she concludes.
“Certainly, if any activities cause discomfort in any way, it’s time to modify the routine or take a break,” adds Dr. Ryniec. And if you’re unsure about how to maintain your routine, “It’s always best to consult with your healthcare provider about the safest activities for you while undergoing fertility treatment,” she advises.
If it turns out that you need to slow down your routine more than anticipated, Decker suggests reframing the time-out. “Rest will only inspire and prepare you to be even more enthusiastic when it’s time to return,” she notes.