If you’re a serious cyclist, chances are you’ve heard stories about the link between bike riding and infertility. Unless you talk with your health care provider or research the subject on your own, it’s difficult to know if such stories are based on facts and whether or not cycling can adversely affect your health. Although studies on the topic aren’t conclusive, they do indicate that long-distance and off-road cycling can decrease fertility in men, according to BBC mobile news.
The main cause of infertility in males is low sperm count, but other causes such as poor quality sperm, inadequate sperm motility and semen deficiencies can also lead to infertility, according to BabyHopes.com. Both environmental and physical factors can cause low sperm count, the primary cause of infertility. If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year or more, or you are experiencing testicular, prostate or sexual problems, talk to your health care provider about possible infertility issues, recommends MayoClinic.com.
Cycling and Infertility
An infertility study of elite triathletes conducted at the University of Cordoba Medical School in Spain suggested that cyclists are more likely to show signs of abnormal sperm and a low sperm count compared to other athletes, especially for those cyclists who regularly ride longer distances, according to the BBC. Researchers who conducted the study believe the main reason for the apparent connection between cycling and infertility is temperature elevation due to tight clothing, according to the London Sperm Bank Digest. There may be other contributing factors as well, such as seat friction and riding pressure.
Bike seat pressure may lead to infertility due to the possible damage of sensitive nerves and blood vessels during rough cycling, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Mountain bikers who regularly ride on coarse terrain may especially be at risk for sustaining long-term damage to the scrotum and surrounding areas. Off-road terrain may cause more damage than road riding due to the extreme nature of mountain biking, including jumping between elevations and traversing rough trials.
Road cyclists who travel short distances may not be at great risk for the sterility problems linked to bike riding. It may only be those elite cyclists who ride more than 180 miles per week that are at most risk for developing infertility, according to the BBC. Sitting on a bicycle seat for extended periods of time during longer rides can reduce blood supply to the penis as much as 70 percent, according to a 2001 study. Further, prolonged riding can lead to penis and scrotum numbness, ejaculation problems and urinary function disturbance.
Although casual cyclists may not need to worry as much about biking and infertility, serious riders who regularly travel long distances or ride on rough terrain can take precautions against developing infertility by changing out bicycle saddles, including getting a wider seat or a specially designed bike seat, such as one with a groove down the center.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Infertility In Men -- Risk Factors
- BabyHopes.com: Causes of Low Sperm Count
- MayoClinic.com; Infertility; June 2011
- BBC; Elite Cyclists Risk Infertility; Emma Wilkinson; June 2009
- London Sperm Bank Digest: Can Cycling Affect Your Fertility
- AthleteInMe.com; Bicycle Seats; Stan Reents; June 2011