When I finally decided earlier this year to pull the trigger and put my eggs on ice, I felt like I’d been preparing for this procedure for the past decade. But as the start of my egg freezing journey neared last month, I found myself feeling overcome with anxiety—not over the self-administered injections I would be doing twice a day, the invasive surgical retrieval, or even that I would be going through this all without a partner. Rather, the thing that worried me most was the inability to exercise for basically a month.
For as long as I can remember, fitness has been my most trusted and reliable outlet for whenever stress and anxiety strike. My frequent Barry’s classes, long runs, and Pilates sessions are as much for my mental health as my physical, and I often joke that without them, I may completely lose it. But working out during egg freezing, I learned at my first doctor’s appointment, can present some pretty serious risks.
That’s because the whole process is built around stimulating the follicles found in the ovaries to produce as many mature eggs as possible. “It takes about two weeks of controlled ovarian stimulation to achieve this goal, and during those two weeks, women take subcutaneous injectable hormones (FSH and LH) every day,” explains Taraneh Nazem, MD, a double-board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and OB/GYN at RMA of New York. As a result, the ovaries dramatically increase in size, making them susceptible to ovarian torsion (twisting), which can not only be incredibly painful but can also carry long-term consequences for fertility.
“Ovarian torsion is a surgical emergency and, in some cases, can lead to the loss of an ovary,” says Shannon DeVore, MD, a double-board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and OB/GYN at NYU Langone. “Some exercises, such as twists, jumps, and excessive pelvic movement, can cause an enlarged ovary to twist around its blood supply, resulting in ovarian torsion.”
Because even low-impact workouts, like yoga and Pilates, contain risky movements, most doctors advise patients to avoid exercise entirely during the roughly two weeks of injections and for a week or two following egg retrieval. But according to Dr. DeVore, there are some ways to move safely during the stimulation process.
What exercises can you do during egg freezing?
One of the most frustrating parts of the egg freezing process is the sheer amount of conflicting information about what you can and cannot do during treatment. The subject of exercise is no exception. And while the dos and don’ts vary greatly depending on each patient’s circumstances—like age, overall health, lifestyle, and risk of hyperstimulation—there are some workouts that almost anyone freezing their eggs can safely do.
“Patients can continue moving through ovarian stimulation with certain low-impact modifications which limit movement of the pelvis,” says Dr. DeVore. “Walking on an incline can be a great substitute for running, and arm weights are typically safe as well.”
There are also some workouts designed specially for this process. Dr. DeVore recommends the Moving During Fertility Treatment series from P.volve which was designed by fertility physicians and experts in functional movement. The cycle-specific series spans three sections—Early Treatment Phase, Ovarian Stimulation Phase, and Post-Retrieval Phase—and includes workouts, stretches, meditations, and educational talks to cater to every stage of the egg freezing (or IVF) process.
“This series was designed to provide ways for individuals to continue moving their body and nurturing their mind with meditations while lessening the risk of exercise-induced ovarian torsion,” explains Maeve McEwen, who, as the director of programming and head trainer at P.volve, helped design the series. “The exercises avoid twisting, jumping, or excessive movements of the pelvis, and maintain neutral alignment. You will be upright and stationary throughout most of the movements.”
What exercises should you avoid during egg freezing?
Because even one wrong move could lead to ovarian torsion, it’s crucial to skip certain exercises during this time. “Avoid any core exercise or excessive twisting,” says Dr. Nazem. Patients should also refrain from high-impact workouts, like running, jumping, lifting more than 15 to 20 pounds, and any other movement that puts pressure on the pelvis or abdomen, including sexual intercourse.
Determining what exercise works for you during egg freezing is incredibly personal, however. “It’s always important, at any phase of life, to pay attention to your body and needs when exercising, but this is even more so when you’re going through a physical change like egg freezing,” advises Lia Bartha, founder of B the Method. “Every person’s experience will be different, so the connection to your body will be crucial in determining whether exercise is right for you.”
It’s always a good idea to discuss anything you’re uncertain about with your doctor, and if a workout or specific movement is causing discomfort or pain, it’s best to rest and recover rather than push through. “Some days may require movement for your mental and physical wellbeing, and others may require laying on the couch all day,” adds Bartha. “Your body will send you the signs, so make sure to listen.”
When can you return to normal exercise following egg freezing?
There are a lot of misconceptions around the egg freezing process, not least of which is the timeline. After two weeks of daily injections and surgical egg retrieval, your mature eggs may be safely tucked into their new home in a cryopreservation facility, but your egg freezing journey is far from over. In fact, as I learned the morning of my retrieval, it can actually take an additional two weeks for the ovaries to return to their normal, pre-treatment size. This means that even though the treatment is technically over, you still can’t resume high-impact exercise right away—and determining when you are ready isn’t exactly obvious.
“Most patients feel ready to get back to their regular routine by the time their first period after the retrieval arrives (typically around 10 to 12 days after the egg retrieval),” Dr. DeVore says. “Exceptions are women who had or were at risk for ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, who may take more time to feel back to baseline.”
Still, some patients (including me) experience bloating and discomfort even after their periods arrive, so it’s important to pay attention to how you feel, and know that the timing is different for everyone. “Be kind to yourself,” says Dr. DeVore. “Everyone recovers at different paces, and your period is sometimes not the magical end date of symptoms.”
What are some other outlets for stress relief?
After learning that high-impact exercise would be off-limits to me for the better part of a month, I wondered how I would cope during this process, especially knowing that egg freezing—and the surge of hormones that come with it—can significantly heighten stress and anxiety. I had made a point of surrounding myself with people who love and care about me and planned to have friends around for most of my injections. Plus I had already-scheduled regular therapy appointments throughout the two weeks of injections, with the option to add an emergency session or two.
But I knew that wouldn’t be enough. My emotions are always a bit unpredictable, and I was certain that would only worsen with so many hormones pumping through my body. So, I decided I needed to find some alternatives that could provide the same sense of relief that going for a run or hopping onto a rowing machine usually did.
At first, this meant lots of walks—not just any walks but reealllyy long walks. After averaging around 10 miles a day for my first three days of injections, though, I grew far too bloated and uncomfortable to move around that much. I continued my at-home P.volve workouts, but I knew I needed something more intense to put my mind at ease.
I’d never had a ton of luck with meditation, but I remembered that every time I’d ever done acupuncture, I’d fallen into a meditative state. I scheduled an appointment at Ora, a favorite clinic in New York, during my first week of treatment and soon found out just how helpful acupuncture could be during this time.
“The egg freezing process, like all fertility treatments, is very stressful emotionally and physically, and acupuncture helps to create a calm mind and keeps the system in a healthy balance,” says acupuncturist Gabriel Sher, LAc. But more than offering emotional relief, acupuncture has also been proven to help fertility. “Acupuncture is an amazing alternative tool to create an optimal environment for healthy eggs to grow and develop,” he says. “It has the ability to keep hormones in balance and to also rebalance the hormonal system after retrieval.”
I also knew that the sudden lack of high-intensity exercise could take a toll on my energy levels. Rather than make up for this with multiple supplements every day, I opted for Perelel’s Egg Freeze Support Pack, which includes about 20 vitamins and minerals, like vitamins B and D, folate, zinc, and CoQ10, which help nourish the body and support energy levels during this process.
Despite my eagerness to freeze my eggs and the extensive research and planning I’d done on exercising during this time, the truth is a lot of it still caught me by surprise. I assumed that I’d wake up every morning, emotions running high and in dire need of an anxiety-relieving workout. In reality, my two weeks of treatment did send me on an emotional rollercoaster, with many more lows than highs. But as much as these feelings may have left me clamoring for a long run or HIIT class normally, the daily injections made their mark sooner than I’d anticipated, and I was so physically uncomfortable by day four that the last thing on my mind was a workout.
Weirdly, the most challenging part of the no-workout rule only came after my egg freezing treatment had come to a close. In the days following my retrieval, I experienced more pain and discomfort than at any other point in the process, and I couldn’t even take my dog for his morning walk, let alone do a proper workout. When that pain subsided, however, I felt my hankering for exercise start to return, and I started hoping and praying my period would arrive early so I could officially get back into my workout groove. But when my period did arrive about a week after my retrieval, my ovaries were still so swollen that any high-impact movement would still present a risk of ovarian torsion. Frustrated as I was to face even more time without exercise, though, I knew I had an arsenal of other tools to turn to in the meantime.
The decision to freeze my eggs was always one rooted in control—over my body, my biological clock, and my reproductive choices. What I quickly discovered, however, was that for roughly four weeks, I would have anything but. Every facet of my life, from planning meetings and social events around my daily appointments and nightly injections to deciding how and when I could move my body, was out of my hands. The irony was not lost on me, but I reminded myself of the light at the end of the tunnel: I would soon have potentially dozens of eggs, enough for the two or three children I know I eventually want, preserved at their peak, the weight of biological pressures removed entirely. I would have the security of knowing I can pursue my professional goals without forfeiting my chance at motherhood and can date without a fixed timeline in mind. Whenever I thought of this, I knew the short-term sacrifices would be worth it.
Now, as I eagerly return to my regular exercise routine (and life), I can confidently say it was. Freezing my eggs gave me the control over my future that I’d long craved, but more than that, it taught me a lesson I didn’t know I needed: how to be okay with not being completely in control.
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