Having children is one of the most basic human desires, and not being able to fulfill this dream can be incredibly emotional and frustrating for couples. There is actually a great deal of stigma in talking about issues surrounding fertility out in the open. This stigma makes things more difficult for everyone, and exacerbates all that is already misunderstood about infertility.

The first fact we should get straight is that as we age our fertility declines. This applies to both men and women but is especially predominant in women.

Being overweight or underweight also plays a critical role in the health of your reproductive system. Ideal body weight provides the best outcome for fertility and pregnancy. Reducing your body weight just by a few kilos can help overweight patients ovulate without the need for fertility medications. Likewise with men, excessive body fat disturbs hormones related to sperm production.

On the other side of the scale, underweight women can have hormonal imbalances that make becoming pregnant extremely difficult. A certain level of body fat is needed so that your body can synthesis enough estrogen.

Many people do not realize that smoking affects fertility in men and women, too. Chemicals in cigarette smoke decrease sperm quality and number, and also increase the rate in which a woman’s eggs die off. Infertility rates in both male and female smokers are about twice the rate of infertility found in nonsmokers.

How many times have you heard someone say that they suddenly conceived as soon as they stopped trying? Well, there is a lot to be said about the connection between stress levels and infertility. When you’re tense and stressed, nothing is going to flow well—not breath, not blood, not hormones. Sometimes all that is needed to break the infertility cycle is decreasing stress, and a period of rest and rejuvenation.

On the whole, the game plan for protecting fertility looks much like the basic strategy for good health: Watch your weight, exercise, eat well, don’t stress and avoid smoking.