Long hours on a bicycle can tone muscle and improve cardiovascular fitness. Obvious, right? But can all that time in a saddle the size of a slice of pizza also wreak havoc on a man’s reproductive health?
In short, maybe. But probably only if you ride five or more hours per week, and even if you do, you can take steps to minimize the risk.
Too much of a good thing?
"I think for bicycling in general, too much of a good thing applies," said Dr. Michael Homer, a reproductive endocrinologist and expert in infertility at the Reproductive Science Center of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Several studies have linked bicycling with issues including genital numbness, erectile dysfunction (ED) and sperm viability. While these studies show a possible connection between cycling and infertility, others found none. The general benefits of aerobic exercise, which is great for general wellness and sexual health, may mitigate some of the negative aspects of cycling.
"We don’t have a definitive answer to (whether cycling can cause infertility issues), but we have biological plausibility," Homer said. "We know that some men who bike report genital numbness. But in recreational bicyclists, weekend warriors and mountain bikers who stand up (occasionally while they ride), there’s no evidence to suggest that’s a problem."
Avoid infertility factors
If you want to maximize comfort and minimize risk, first make sure you’re using a bike that’s the right size and get it properly fitted. An ill-fitting bike can affect how much weight you put on your genital area, and too much weight can restrict oxygen flow to the testes or penis, and cause minor nerve damage.
In severe cases, this can lead to ED, low sperm count or long-term nerve damage. A more upright posture puts less pressure on the pertinent parts, and a wider seat distributes weight over a greater area. Seats with a cut-out are designed to do the same thing, but because they provide less sitting area, they can increase pressure at contact points and ultimately create more problems.
Homer also recommends standing up occasionally while riding.
"If you aim to stand 20 percent of the time while cycling, that’s associated with lower odds of numbness, which is a decent marker for possibly causing issues with sperm," he said.
Avid exercisers can keep up a regular exercise routine but shouldn’t push it while trying to conceive.
"You don’t have to lose your mental balance or all the things important to you," Homer said. "That’s for after you have the baby."
If you and your partner are struggling to conceive, consider taking a break from biking and shifting to swimming or other exercises temporarily. The life cycle of a sperm is 84 days. The bike will be there afterward.
Try these adjustments
Overall, if you’re worried about losing reproductive function because of your biking routine, take these steps:
- Adjust your bike
- Adjust your posture
- Adjust your habits—try standing in the pedals every now and then
You’ll have time to bike hard and push yourself, but that time may have to wait if you’re trying to conceive. Like any exercise, pay attention to your body and what works or doesn’t, and you’ll be on track to maintain optimal health with a healthy sperm count to match.