Trying to conceive? UMass researchers say you might want to invest in a good pair of sneakers

  • Russo

  • Whitcomb

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For the Recorder
Published: 5/25/2018 3:53:38 PM

Women who want to become pregnant might consider taking regular walks to improve their chances to conceive.

At least a pair of University of Massachusetts researchers think so.

Brian Whitcomb, an associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the university’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, and Lindsey Russo, who graduated last year with a master’s degree in epidemiology, used survey answers from subjects of a study that was focused on the benefits of aspirin on pregnancy to discover that the women who took walks were more likely to become pregnant than those who didn’t.

Among the subjects, 1,200 healthy women ages 18 to 40, those who indicated on the questionnaire that they had a regular walking routine, on average, became pregnant 1.89 times more often than those who didn’t.

“That’s pretty substantial. It’s almost a two-fold higher probability of becoming pregnant,” Whitcomb said. He noted that twice the probability is a high percentage when considered over such a large group of participants.

The women in the study each had lost a pregnancy, and the study was originally done to look at aspirin’s effect on their chances of getting pregnant again and then carrying the baby to term. It was conducted by Enrique Schisterman of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, an agency that’s part of the National Institutes of Health in the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

While the aspirin hypothesis didn’t produce convincing results, Whitcomb and Russo discovered a correlation between walking and an increased chance for women to become pregnant, particularly if they were overweight.

Of the women who participated in the study, everyone who later became pregnant initially indicated they kept up a regular walking routine. Women who said they had an intense physical fitness routine also had higher chances of becoming pregnant, but the findings weren’t as significant, the researchers said.

Approximately 60 percent of participants who took walks became pregnant within three months, 80 percent within six, and 90 percent within a year, the researchers said. The remainder met criteria for clinical infertility.

What Whitcomb and Russo were unable to determine from the sample is why. That, they said, will be a focus of their continued research.

Still, Russo said, the findings are significant because little research has been done into what women can do to increase their chances of becoming pregnant, especially those who’ve lost pregnancies, or what effect physical activity has.

The study, which was part of Russo’s senior thesis, appeared last month in Human Reproduction, a peer-reviewed scientific medical journal that publishes research articles on all aspects of human reproduction.

Going into their project, Russo and Whitcomb were looking for a connection between various types of physical activity and pregnancy.

To correlate their research, they categorized participants from the original study based on factors like body weight, time spent sitting and income, none of which were found to have a substantial impact on pregnancy rates.

Notably, they said, their analysis showed that general health, moderate fitness routines and overall physical activity doesn’t seem to have an appreciable relationship on the likelihood of becoming pregnant. For some yet unexplained reason, only walking does. And then, it does so more significantly for overweight women.

Drawing a theoretical and cursory conclusion from the research, Whitcomb said the women who walked might have had a better chance at becoming pregnant because they lost weight. He said obesity is known to decrease the chances of becoming pregnant.

To determine what other factors might be involved, Russo and Whitcomb intend to continue their research to seek a biological explanation. Russo said she would also like to study the impact of smoking, alcohol and diet on the ability for women to become pregnant.

The pair have collaborated in the past on research focused on gestational diabetes.

“Both of us have an interest in digging down a little bit deeper,” Whitcomb said.

“Next steps would be, like Lindsey suggested, trying to tease apart what biologically could be going on so we could identify if it actually is walking, or if there were other things that differentiated the women who were walking and the women who were not. Certainly, more work is needed in this area.”

Their study, they said, is a small step toward understanding what can help women increase their chances of becoming pregnant. Research builds gradually over time, Whitcomb noted.

“We’re trying to build incrementally to having a better understanding,” he said.

For now, though, Russo said the results are encouraging because walking is something most people can do easily without spending a lot of money.

“It’s widely available,” Russo said. “You just need some good shoes.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.




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