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January 18, 2022

Can yoga improve male fertility?

Yoga is a form of meditation and exercise practiced by around 1 in 7 adults in the US. The practice of yoga includes a variety of physical poses, stretches, mantras, and breathing techniques. Yoga has many research-backed health benefits, including relieving stress and anxiety, increasing endurance, balance, and flexibility/mobility, and improving quality of life in people with chronic pain and illness. Let’s examine whether yoga may also benefit semen parameters and male fertility.

Key takeaways:

  • Yoga offers many health benefits, but there’s not much high-quality research into yoga’s effects on male fertility.
  • Limited studies suggest that practicing yoga may be associated with reduced sperm DNA damage, increased sperm count, and improved pregnancy outcomes.
  • Yoga may also reduce stress. Excess stress has been linked to an increased risk of abnormal semen parameters and testicular dysfunction.
  • For most people, there’s little risk involved in trying most types of yoga. If you’re looking to improve your fertility, there are also many other lifestyle changes that may be even more effective.

Moderate exercise improves male fertility

Physical activity in general is associated with improved male fertility. Exercise may counteract age- or obesity-related testis problems by lowering inflammation and oxidative stress.

According to a small 2017 study, physically active men — those who exercised for at least two hours, three times per week — had better semen volume, sperm motility, and sperm morphology than sedentary men. Another study of 433 men found improvements in pregnancy rates, semen parameters, and sperm DNA integrity in the group that ran on a treadmill three times each week for 6 months.

A third study measured the sperm improvement impact of several exercise regimens:

  • Moderate intensity continuous training (30–60 minutes of walking or jogging, 4–6 times per week)
  • High intensity continuous training (40–50 minutes of running, 3 times per week)
  • High intensity interval training (alternating sprinting and recovery for 20–40 minutes, 3 times per week)

The study found that, while all of the above exercise regimens had positive effects on sperm health, the best exercise method for sperm improvement was moderate intensity continuous training.

It is possible to exercise too much if your goal is to improve your fertility. Overly intense training along with certain activities that heat the scrotum (such as bicycling or horseback riding) may negatively affect semen quality. Still, research from 2016 indicated that recreational exercise appears to have a positive or at least neutral impact on semen parameters.

Practicing yoga for male fertility

Whether or not yoga reaches the category of “moderate intensity” exercise may depend on how vigorous your class or practice is. But in general, the research seems clear that recreational exercise is associated with improved male fertility. Does yoga have any specific benefits for male fertility?

First, note that many studies of yoga have used small sample sizes and often examine different types of yoga for varying time periods. As a result, fewer conclusions may be drawn from them, and they’re more difficult to compare. This is known as “low quality” evidence.

Most research on yoga and male fertility focuses on oxidative stress, a process that can damage sperm and other cells. Oxidative stress occurs when there's an excess of free radicals, also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), in the body. ROS are unstable molecules, produced as natural byproducts of daily life — at low levels, they’re not typically damaging.

But if left unchecked or produced in excess — due to illness, toxin exposure, poor lifestyle, or other factors that place additional stress on the body — free radicals can cause damage to other molecules inside our cells, such as DNA. Increased oxidative stress can contribute to lower quality sperm, sperm with increased sperm DNA fragmentation (genetic damage), infertility, and illness in future offspring.

One study looked at fathers of children with retinoblastoma, a condition that can be caused by a gene mutation. This group had higher levels of ROS — indicating oxidative stress — and sperm DNA fragmentation, compared to fathers of healthy children. During the study, these fathers were instructed to do yoga regularly; ROS and sperm DNA fragmentation levels decreased over 6 months, starting after the first month of practice.

Another small study found that practicing yoga for two hours per day for three weeks was associated with reduced oxidative stress and improved sperm motility, sperm count, and sperm DNA fragmentation in men whose partners had at least three consecutive miscarriages.

While yoga may have benefits for sperm, you may want to avoid hot yoga, which involves practicing yoga in an environment heated to 100–115ºF. Research indicates that even raising scrotal temperature by 2–4ºF may temporarily reduce sperm count and cause chromosomal abnormalities. While short-term heat exposure, such as that experienced during a hot yoga class, may have a less significant effect, it may be a good idea to avoid increased heat if you’re focusing on improving your fertility.

While some studies have investigated yoga’s role in improving premature ejaculation, a research review from 2020 indicated that there’s insufficient evidence available.

Yoga poses for fertility?

While some practitioners may link certain postures to the reproductive system, there’s very little evidence that specific poses can improve fertility.

In one study, participants who performed the cobra posture showed an 11% decrease in cortisol and a 16% increase in testosterone, which may have benefits for the reproductive system. However, all exercise has the potential to temporarily lower cortisol levels and increase testosterone — the cobra pose doesn’t have a monopoly on this benefit.

Stress impacts male fertility

Research has linked psychological stress to an increased likelihood of abnormal semen parameters and infertility. Stress has been associated with impaired sperm production, possibly because it contributes to a drop in testosterone levels. Stress may also contribute to testicular dysfunction.

A study from Denmark found that participants with the highest stress levels had 38% lower sperm concentration, 34% lower total sperm count, and 15% lower semen volume compared to participants with intermediate stress levels. This study is especially valuable because it looks at a population of healthy men with no known fertility issues.

Some research has indicated that reducing stress may help improve male fertility. One study of infertile men found lowering stress by taking daily ashwagandha for 3 months was associated with improved semen quality. The men in this studied experienced improved:

  • testosterone levels
  • sperm concentration
  • sperm motility
  • semen liquefaction time (the amount of time it takes for semen to liquefy)

The pregnancy rates following treatment was 15%, equivalent to the fertile control group. This study is complex; ashwagandha has also been studied as a male fertility supplement, so it’s possible that there’s confounding factors.

Learn more about stress and male fertility.

Yoga for stress relief

Since yoga has been shown to reduce stress levels, it may also tangentially benefit male fertility.

Reviews of research have indicated that yoga lowers stress levels and symptoms of stress. More specifically, another meta-analysis suggested that yoga may lower cortisol, blood pressure, and resting heart rate, along with other factors like cholesterol and fasting blood glucose. Still, longer-term data in bigger groups of people is needed.

According to one small study, yoga was similarly helpful for promoting stress management compared to cognitive behavior therapy. Yoga may also be more effective at reducing anxiety, tension, depression, and fatigue than other exercise such as swimming, body conditioning, and fencing, according to another study.

It’s still unclear how exactly yoga works to reduce stress. Research has identified several possible mechanisms, including:

  • self-compassion
  • positive affect (experiencing more positive emotions)
  • inhibiting the posterior hypothalamus (the part of the brain that plays a role in blood pressure, body temperature, sleep, and memory)
  • reducing salivary cortisol

The style of yoga may also make a difference for stress relief, with one small study indicating that practicing meditative yoga (focused on meditation, flexibility, and mindful breathing) reduced stress while power yoga (emphasizing endurance and powerful poses) did not.

Other benefits of yoga

Yoga has a variety of additional health benefits. These may include:

A small 2021 study also found that practicing yoga for 6 weeks improved quality of life and immune response while reducing inflammation in men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Other ways to improve fertility

Yoga may have some benefits for male fertility, and — apart from hot yoga — there’s very little risk to trying it, with guidance from an instructor.

There are also many other research-backed lifestyle changes you can make to improve your sperm health and your chances of creating a pregnancy:

Learn more about improving your sperm health.

You can monitor your sperm health and check for improvements with at-home sperm testing.

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