A well-known fertility clinic had quoted me for the following week. They asked me not to consume alcohol during that week and to keep 5 days of sexual abstinence before going.
I was going to donate sperm.
They wanted sperm and I wanted money. They promised € 500 in exchange for a weekly semen sample for 6 months. I was 28 years old, I was a
precarious doctoral student, not a smoker, and not a drinker. Also, I had no histories of sexually transmitted diseases. And I had a stable partner for several years.
I was a good candidate!
So I went to the appointment. Trembling, but I went. The instructions to collect the sample were numerous. Clean yourself first like this, do this later, try not to touch this part, be careful to open it like that… It was not easy, but I achieved my goal. I handed in my sample and I left a lot more relaxed, as you can guess.
However, I could not become a donor because my sperm did not pass the quality control.
The week after leaving the sample, a person called to tell me that the sperm count was lower than that they required. They counted 22 million sperm in every milliliter of my semen and required twice that amount. Therefore she said that I would probably have problems if I wanted to have children in the future.
What she did not know was that my “unsuitable for donation” semen had worked quite well. Hence, I had already become a father a few years earlier.
Many men do not have my same luck.
Male infertility affects about half of couples who can not conceive a child. The most common causes are physical problems in the testicles, blockages of the tubes that carry semen or hormonal problems. The doctors cannot determine a half of the cases of male infertility. This is especially relevant.
And the scenario gets worse.
The sperm count dropped to 50% in some countries over the last years and this trend could be worldwide. As a result, we can easily imagine a world epidemic of male infertility, in the style of Children of Men (amazing film).
Lifestyle is damaging the production of sperm. Alcohol, tobacco, unhealthy diet and environmental pollutants would be partly responsible.
But also our couches and desks
A person is sedentary when spends less than 10 % of its daily energy in carrying out some physical activity. Watching too much TV, working on the computer most of the day and avoiding any form of exercise or physical activity are typical characteristics of a sedentary person. I am painted here.
The sedentary lifestyle causes obesity and cardiovascular diseases. But, does it negatively affect the quality of the semen? This was the question that motivated a group of scientists from the University of Antioquia (Colombia). They caaried out the following experiment.
Physical activity improves the quality of sperm
They recruited 32 healthy men of reproductive age. Without testicular diseases, with similar body mass indexes, and same height.
Seventeen of them were physically active. They practice on a regular basis (for more than a year) at least one of the following activities. Spinning, cycling, calisthenics, lifting weights, dancing, running, martial arts, soccer or swimming. The other 15 were lazy walruses, just like me.
They collected the sperm samples after a 4-day abstention period. They performed conventional analyzes to determine semen quality. Also performed other tests to determine sperm functionality.
The elusive sperm was a true reflection of its owners.
The scientists found that the motility and percentage of viable sperm were significantly higher in the group of physically active men.
On the contrary, they noticed that the viscosity and agglutination of the semen of sedentary men were greater. As well as the percentage of moribund sperm. These three factors negatively affect male fertility.
The authors suggest that the practice of a vigorous physical activity is significantly related to the improvement of semen parameters.
They state that when we are sitting so long, the temperature of our testicles and the pressure exerted on them cause oxidative stress. As a result, the correct production of sperm is interrupted. They also point out that the metabolism of active men helps counteract the effect of free radicals that produce oxidative stress.
Modifying lifestyle could improve the reproductive goals of men seeking children. Other studies showed that constant exercise positively influences the hormonal profile, libido, psychological well-being and body condition in general. Which in turn affects the reproductive performance of men.
We have no excuses to continue to mistreat our testicles and our health
Going back to my story, what I never said in the fertility clinic is that I could not save the 5 days of sexual abstinence.
I will always have the doubt of whether the low sperm count was due to my sedentary lifestyle or was due to making made love in the previous days. Or both.
In any case, this Colombian work brings another stimulus to all of us, but especially men who are looking to have children, for getting up from the desks and couches. All we need to get away from the sedentary lifestyle and enroll our sperm in the fitness trend.
The original version of this post is in Spanish and was published as El Semen se Apunta al Fitness in Revista Persea. Other post related to male reproductive system is Fluido Seminal, Placer en Gotas. The paper that inspired this post is: Lalinde-Acevedo, P. et al. (2017) Physically active men show better semen parameters than their sedentary counterparts. International Journal of Fertility and Sterility, 11(3), 156-165.