Infertility affects one in six couples trying to conceive.
Sometimes infertility struggles are due to a problem impacting women. In other cases, couples struggle due to male infertility.
And yet, sometimes, a fertility issue in both partners causes these problems.
One of the biggest causes of male fertility issues is low sperm motility.
What is it? And how can you increase your sperm motility? Learn more below.
What is sperm motility?
The term sperm motility refers to the ability of sperm to move or swim efficiently. As a functional measurement, sperm motility is important in fertility because sperm move through a female reproductive tract in order to reach an egg and fertilize it. Low sperm motility can contribute to male infertility.
There are two kinds of sperm motility:
- Progressive motility – sperm swimming in large circles or a straight line.
- Non-progressive motility – sperm swimming in tight circles or not moving in a straight line.
In order to fertilize an egg, progressive motility of a minimum of 25 micrometers a second is necessary (1).
Signs you have low sperm motility
Low sperm motility is the inability of the sperm to move efficiently and quickly toward the egg. A man is considered to have low sperm motility when less than 40% of their sperm is motile.
Unlike other problems such as low sperm count, low sperm motility doesn’t have specific signs and symptoms. Having difficulty conceiving naturally is the biggest sign that someone could be wrong with sperm motility. In men with this problem, sperm take too long to reach an egg, and most of them never do.
Since there are no specific symptoms to look out for, the only way to know whether you have low sperm motility is through semen analysis. For this test, a patient needs to provide a minimum of two semen samples.
Besides analyzing for sperm motility, semen analysis also offers more insight into ejaculation, accessory glands, and function/health of the male genital tract.
What causes low sperm motility?
The exact cause of low sperm motility varies from one man to another. In many cases, the cause of poor sperm motility is unexplained or unclear.
One of the major causes of low sperm motility is damage to the testicles, whose main function is to produce and store sperm.
Damage could occur due to:
- Undescended testicles
- Testicular cancer
- Congenital factors
- Testicular surgery
Environmental and lifestyle factors play a role in sperm motility. For example, smoking and long-term use of anabolic steroids can lead to low sperm motility (2, 3).
Occupations and activities that cause repeated pressure or trauma to the pelvic area can also contribute to this problem. These include military, driving, and painting.
Other factors that affect semen quality and, thereby, contribute to low sperm motility include cannabis or cocaine use and a condition called varicocele. Varicocele is the enlargement of veins in the scrotum.
How to increase sperm motility
Lifestyle changes are crucial for increasing sperm motility. Simple tweaks in your everyday habits can go a long way. Below, you can learn more about different lifestyle adjustments that help increase sperm motility.
Maintain healthy weight
Being overweight or obese negatively affects male fertility. Excess weight changes hormone levels and harms sperm function and its molecular composition (4). Overweight men are more likely to have low sperm count, impaired motility, and struggle with fertility.
Losing weight is one of the most important things you can do to boost sperm motility and sperm count and improve fertility in general.
Why? Excess weight reduces testosterone levels, which could translate to poor sperm quality. You can improve sperm health and function through weight loss and maintenance.
A sedentary lifestyle affects sperm health and may contribute to sperm motility. Insufficient physical activity leads to weight gain, sperm DNA damage, and testicular heath stress, all of which can impair motility and sperm count.
Strive to exercise regularly. Engage in cardio and strength training. At the same time, you also need to move more throughout the day.
Instead of sitting too much, you may want to get up from time to time or use stairs instead of escalators. Take a nice walk every day, and you’ll notice both your physical and mental health is improving.
A growing body of evidence confirms smoking negatively affects sperm motility and harms sperm morphology. The effects are more pronounced in heavy smokers (5).
Nicotine and other toxic compounds in cigarettes affect every part of your body, not just the lungs. They travel to the genital area and may induce sperm DNA damage. Smoking also affects testosterone levels. Low testosterone could further harm sperm health.
It’s also useful to mention smoking negatively affects sperm concentration and morphology, besides sperm motility.
Since this unhealthy habit is a major contributor to low sperm motility, quitting is the best option to take care of this problem. Although quitting smoking may seem difficult, it’s possible. Nowadays, there are tons of resources, apps, and support groups you can use to achieve your goal.
Limit smartphone use
Mobile devices such as smartphones emit small amounts of radiofrequency radiation. While using these devices or lying near them, people can absorb this radiation.
At this point, no consistent evidence confirms exposure to this tiny radiation is harmful or that it causes severe health problems.
However, back when cell phones were used, one study found that exposure to radiation emitted by these devices can decrease semen quality, sperm motility, count, and morphology (6).
Just to be on the safe side, you may want to limit smartphone use and try not to carry this device in your pocket.
Limit or avoid alcohol intake
Alcohol decreases sperm quality by decreasing sperm count as well as motility, size, and shape. This is particularly the case with heavy drinking.
Excessive alcohol consumption reduces sperm motility and other aspects of sperm health by lowering testosterone levels, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone while increasing estrogen levels at the same time.
To avoid these problems, you may want to stop drinking alcohol or limit how much you consume.
What food improves sperm motility?
The cornerstone of lifestyle modifications for better sperm motility is healthy nutrition. Unhealthy diets decrease sperm motility through weight gain, which then affects hormone levels and sperm production. At the same time, an unhealthy diet doesn’t deliver much-needed nutrients for sperm health.
You may want to enrich your diet with the following foods:
- Organ meats
- Fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens)
- Dark chocolate
- Nuts and seeds
Avoid heavily processed and refined foods, soy products, BPA, pesticides, and trans fats.
Many herbs and plants like maca root are known for their beneficial effects on sperm. They are available as dietary supplements.
Also, if you don’t get enough certain nutrients through diet, you may want to consider supplementation. Consult your doctor if you are taking medications for an underlying health problem.
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How quickly can you improve sperm motility?
Generally speaking, it takes about three months for sperm to mature. That’s why doctors recommend patients quit smoking at least three months before they try to conceive with their partners.
Quitting smoking can immediately improve the quality of sperm, but after three months, higher values in terms of sperm count and motility are more pronounced.
Also, after about one to two weeks of starting a healthy diet, your sperm motility can improve.
A wide range of factors affect male fertility and reduce sperm motility. When that happens, sperm don’t move efficiently. Sometimes it doesn’t even reach an egg.
That’s why many men struggle with fertility issues. Various causes are behind low sperm motility, but the problem is manageable.
A healthy lifestyle is vital to increase your sperm motility, which is why you may want to adjust your diet, exercise regularly, and quit smoking.
If you’re not sure whether you have low sperm motility but suspect that you do, it’s useful to contact a doctor. Your healthcare provider will order a semen analysis test.