Extreme physical exercise: can it put reproductive health at risk?

think that how much more physical exercise we do, the more benefits we will notice on our health It is a common mistake. Although maintaining a regular and scheduled physical activity routine is essential to have a good quality of life, excessive exercise or those routines that do not take into account moments of rest can pose a serious risk to our health. Some of the threats, sometimes, we don't even contemplate. And they do not have to do exclusively with exhaustion or chronic fatigue, the appearance of musculoskeletal injuries or the development of chronic problems such as overtraining syndrome. He extreme physical exercise can negatively affect the immune system, increasing susceptibility to diseases. Fertility may also be compromised.

According to Maurizio De Rocco, an andrologist at the andrology and reproductive medicine centers Fertilab Barcelona and Fundació Puigvert, “regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle and can help preserve and improve male reproductive health. Exercise helps control body weight, improve cardiovascular health, lower inflation and control stress.” However, Intense physical exercise can affect and put male fertility at risk. Specifically, the men who are affected by this phenomenon are those whose routines, “regardless of the type of sport, are very demanding and hard.” We talk about daily workouts lasting hours, exercises that involve repeated microtrauma or expose the person to intense dehydration or frequent routines that do not include timely rest periods.

Specifically, practicing high-endurance sports, such as cycling and marathon running, has been associated with a decrease in semen quality. This is due to the influence of factors such as increased scrotal temperature and oxidative stress. Additionally, excessive exercise can alter hormonal levels, reducing testosterone production and negatively affecting spermatogenesis. Although the percentage of men who lose their reproductive capacity due to intense gym routines is not worrying, experts urge caution.

“Body temperature is something that plays a prominent role in this matter. In fact, we are not talking about body temperature in general, but rather about genital (scrotal) temperature. Sports, as well as lifestyles, that increase scrotal temperature, can affect sperm production in the testicles and thus worsen male fertility. Working exposed to high temperatures, or in a sitting position for a long time (as happens to drivers, for example) can increase scrotal temperature. Repeated saunas and baths can also affect seminal quality with this same mechanism,” says the expert.

However, according to a study published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online, Only 14% of young men who go to the gym are aware of the impact that their sports routine can have on fertility. “There are many people who are not aware. And I think part of this lack of awareness is because, historically, fertility – and infertility – has always been associated with the female sex. Thus, there is no perception of the importance of the male factor in the fertility issue and, even less, the perception of what the risk factors that affect male fertility may be,” the doctor emphasizes. And he adds: “The male part is completely forgotten.”

The problem goes beyond the volume and intensity of the physical exercise performed. And it is that, Difficulties in conceiving are also related to taking protein supplements or anabolic steroids.. The former “can alter the balance between androgens and estrogens, affect hormones and influence fertility due to the estrogenic activity of these substances,” says De Rocco. For their part, anabolic steroids bring those who take them closer to their aesthetic desires, but their testosterone production is inhibited. “The consumer stops producing sperm, their testicles may shrink in the long term and their risk of baldness increases,” says De Rocco.

The specialist clarifies: “Supplements are not harmful in and of themselves, but what sometimes happens is that supplements contain certain “contaminants” or undeclared substances with hormonal activity (anabolic) that have a very harmful effect on fertility. From a scientific point of view, supplements have been shown to contribute very little to sports performance. I would therefore suggest to a man looking for children not to take supplements. If he still wants to take a supplement, choose products from recognized brands, sold by authorized distributors and avoid purchasing online.

According to the aforementioned study, 79% of young men surveyed claim to consume protein supplements.

Fertility: a heritage that we must preserve and care for

This fact does not only harm men. There are also cases of women who have a deregulated hormonal system. due to the intensity of the sport performed. “The difference between women and men is that they can notice that something is not right thanks to the lack or irregularity of menstruation. On the other hand, men are not as aware because they lack a physical signal that alerts them to this hormonal change,” says Dr. De Rocco.

This lack of obvious physical symptoms in men, combined with the fact that men can often overlook the importance of monitoring their reproductive health, leads specialists to emphasize the need to improve awareness about the potential risks of intense physical exercise. in male fertility as the benefit of a proactive approach towards your reproductive health. The latter should include regular tests such as semen analysis to evaluate sperm quality and detect possible problems at an early stage. “When this test gives normal results, it indicates, with good probability, that there is completely preserved fertility,” says the andrologist.

Dr. Maurizio De Rocco highlights that reproductive health “is a heritage that we must preserve and care for,” so it is essential to always take into account how the changes we make in our routine and lifestyle can affect fertility. . De Rocco concludes that, “in most cases, with a good diet and moderate physical exercise we have enough energy to maintain a lifestyle that allows us to be strong, healthy and that does not have negative consequences on fertility.” . This is something important to keep in mind, especially for men, who do not perceive symptoms about their level of fertility, whether good or bad.

The average Spaniard, close to being subfertile

The low birth rate and fertility problems in Spanish couples are two of the great threats to public health that hang over Spain. Women are becoming mothers later and 40.1% of them give birth after the age of 35, an age set by experts as the “fertility barrier” after which the chances of pregnancy are drastically reduced. The outlook does not improve from the male perspective: sperm quality drops by half and the average of men borders on subfertility.

Both sperm quality and concentration have been drastically reduced by 51% globally. The rate of decline is enormous: since 1973 sperm concentration has decreased at an annual rate of 1.16% and, at the turn of the century, at a speed of 2.64%.

According to WHO ranges, A man is considered subfertile if he has a sperm concentration of less than 40 million per milliliter. and infertile when it is below 15 million per milliliter. The average obtained in the samples collected by Instituto Bernabeu indicates that the average man who comes to their clinics is subfertile, since the average is 33.5 million sperm per milliliter.

The analysis of 5,000 samples analyzed in the last 5 years by Group IB raises alarms by detecting a general decrease of almost 16.75% in the count of millions per milliliter of sperm; while his motility has fallen by 12%. Furthermore, morphologically, a sample is considered normal when 4% of sperm have a normal shape, but while in 2017 the average was 7.6% normal sperm, it is currently 3.8%, falling almost to the same level. half.

This is replicated in sperm donations: in these 5 years the donor acceptance rate has gone from 15% acceptance to 8%. Data that puts fertility experts on alert since the majority of donors are young people under 35 years of age and has caused the WHO to reduce the requirements demanded of donors.