Men who exercise between three and five times a week may improve their sperm counts and other measures of sperm quality in just a few months, according to a new study.
Researchers from Urmia University in Iran also found that men exercising moderately and continuously improved their sperm quality more than those following popular intensive exercise programmes like high intensity interval training (HIIT).
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One in three couples struggle to conceive due to poor semen quality. The only treatment available for couples unable to conceive naturally is In vitro fertilisation (IVF), but using poor quality sperm may increase the risk of miscarriage, birth defects and the development of childhood cancer, researchers said.
Current advice for men seeking to improve their chances of conceiving include combining healthy eating with regular exercise while giving up smoking and reducing the intake of alcohol.
However, the link between exercise and sperm quality is not definitely proven.
Researchers investigated 261 healthy men aged between 25 and 40 years old. Men who followed a regular exercise programme or did more than 25 minutes of exercise more than three days per week were excluded from participating.
They assigned each participant to one of four groups: moderate intensity continuous training (MICT), high intensity continuous training (HICT), HIIT, or a control group that did no exercise.
MICT and HICT exercises consisted of running on a treadmill for half an hour and one hour for 3-4 days per week respectively.
HIIT consisted of short one-minute bursts of sprinting on a treadmill, followed by a one minute recovery period, repeating between ten to fifteen times. These routines were followed during a 24-week period.
The researchers found that men in all exercise groups had improved sperm quality across all measures when compared to the samples from the control group.
After completing the 24-week programme, the MICT exercise group showed the biggest improvements in sperm quality, and also maintained these benefits for longer.
Compared to the control group, those following MICT had: 8.3 per cent more semen volume, 12.4 per cent higher sperm motility, 17.1 per cent improved sperm cell shape/morphology, 14.1 per cent more concentrated sperm and 21.8 per cent more sperm cells on average.
“Our results show that doing exercise can be a simple, cheap and effective strategy for improving sperm quality in sedentary men,” said Behzad Hajizadeh Maleki, lead author of the study.
Researchers noted that while losing weight in general is likely to have contributed to improving sperm quality, MICT may have had the most profound impact on sperm quality because it reduces the gonad’s exposure to inflammatory agents and oxidative stress.
The study was published in the journal Reproduction.