Physical Activity and Fertility in Women: The North-Trøndelag Health Study

Hum Reprod. 2009 Dec;24(12):3196-204. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dep337. Epub 2009 Oct 3.


Background: Changes in the state of energy balance owing to changes in physical activity may affect the reproductive system. We evaluated the association between physical activity (PA) and fertility and parity in healthy women.

Methods: A population-based health survey (HUNT 1) was conducted during 1984-1986 in Nord-Trøndelag county, Norway, with follow-up from 1995 to 1997 (HUNT 2). The study included 3887 women, <45 years old in HUNT 2. PA was assessed by baseline questionnaire, and fertility and parity by questionnaire at follow-up. Data focused on overall occurrence of infertility in the population (without biological confirmation).

Results: Increased frequency, duration and intensity of PA were associated with increased subfertility, and frequency of PA was associated with voluntary childlessness (P < 0.01). After adjusting for age, parity, smoking, and marital status, women who were active on most days were 3.2 times more likely to have fertility problems than inactive women. Exercising to exhaustion was associated with 2.3 times the odds of fertility problems versus low intensity. Women with highest intensity of PA at baseline had the lowest frequency of continuing nulliparity and highest frequency of having three or more children during follow-up (P < 0.05). Sensitivity analysis including body mass index as confounder did not alter the results. No associations were found between lower activity levels and fertility or parity.

Conclusion: Increased risk of infertility was only found for the small group of women reporting the highest levels of intensity and frequency of PA. Awareness of the possible risks of infertility should be highlighted among non-athletic women who exercise vigorously.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / epidemiology*
  • Infertility, Female / etiology
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Parity
  • Physical Endurance / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive Behavior
  • Risk
  • Young Adult