Procreating—at least for the time being—is sort of like rolling the dice. Eye color, hair color, athletic skills, blood type; there’s no telling which genetic codes are going to sync up to construct your offspring. But you can make some lifestyle changes to boost your fertility and the odds of having a healthy, happy baby. Because while talk of infertility usually centers around women, the truth is that “half the time a couple has trouble conceiving, there’s an issue with the guy’s sperm,” says Joseph Alukal, M.D., Director of male reproductive health at NYU Langone Medical Center. (No matter that “1800 sperm are produced every time your heart beats—it’s nature’s most remarkable assembly line,” adds Alukal.) Here, seven ways to make sure all of your swimmers are sharp shooters.
“It’s easier said than done, but the biggest thing you can do for your sperm is to quit smoking,” says Alukal. Studies show that cigarettes (and marijuana) can contribute to low sperm counts and misshapen or slow-moving swimmers, making it harder to fertilize an egg.
“In the past we had this sense that guy’s fertility remained the same, regardless of whether you were 17 or 70, but we’re starting to realize there may be a small increased risk after age 40,” says Alukal. (Studies show that not only does your fertility drop as you age, but babies of older dads have higher rates of autism and schizophrenia.) “It shouldn’t keep you from trying, just be aware,” says Alukal.
A drink a day is fine, but regular binge drinking can drown out a big chunk of viable swimmers. In fact, a Danish study found that men who had 40 drinks a week on average lowered their sperm count by a third.
Maintaining a healthy diet is clutch for keeping sperm in top shape, but for a serious upgrade reach for some walnuts, packed with omega-3 fatty acids. A study published in Biology of Reproduction found that men who ate 75 grams of walnuts (about two handfuls) a day for 12 weeks had a boost in sperm count, mobility, and shape.
Exercise (But Don't Go Crazy)
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that men who exercised for 15 or more hours weekly at a moderate to vigorous rate had a 73 percent higher sperm count than those who exercised less than five hours per week. But if you’re trying to make a baby, don’t completely overdo it: “I’ve seen guys training for something like an ironman and they have crappy sperm counts because of the tremendous physical stress,” says Alukal.
Mind the Heat
There’s a reason your testicles hang outside your body—sperm is heat sensitive, and prolonged exposures to elevated temperatures can cause them to die off. But it’s not like you need to take cold showers. “Occasionally having your laptop in your lap, wearing tight underwear, or going in the sauna once a week isn’t going to have an impact,” says Alukal. “If a welder has a torch between his legs at 2,000 degrees eight hours a day, there might be a problem.”
Check Your Meds
“There’s a long list of meds (including some drugs used to treat hair loss or depression) that can impact your sperm count, so if you’re having fertility issues check yours with a specialist who can advise you on other options,” says Alukal.