We always hear about women racing against their biological clock before they are unable to conceive or have a healthy pregnancy. But what about men – do they have a biological clock too?
Men can indeed father children past the age of 50. In fact, there are several accounts of menage 90 and older around the world taking on the role of “dad” late in life. Many famous celebrities have chosen this path including musicians Mick Jagger and Billy Joel, actors Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas, and Hugh Grant, and even the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner, who all became dads when most men at their ages are welcoming grandchildren.
So there must be no age limit on male fertility, right?
Not so fast. It turns out that men do have a biological clock but is rarely discussed. Women’s biological clock, however, is commonly referred to. That’s because when a baby girl is born, the eggs present within her ovaries, are the only supply of eggs she will have in her lifetime. As women age, this supply naturally dwindles. It makes sense that women in their twenties will be more likely to get pregnant than a woman past the age of 35, who will have fewer eggs.
At what age are men most fertile?
Studies have found that male fertility begins to decline in the same age range as female fertility, between 35 and 45. Yet, men are largely excluded from the “ticking biological clock” conversation due to their ability to still make new sperm daily. But, there are changes occurring within the male reproductive organs producing sperm that affects both sperm count and sperm concentration. It’s been found that sperm of older fathers are slower and less efficient with age which results in a lower sperm count as well as genetic abnormalities.
Basically, the sperm of older dads just don’t perform or swim as well as they did in their younger years. Research has shown that sperm motility (how well they swim) decreases by about 0.8% per year of age. When comparing the sperm of men between ages 30 to 35 with men over age 55, sperm motility is reduced by 54%.
How age affects male fertility
It’s the genetic abnormalities that are most concerning, especially if the man is 45 and older. Not only can couples experience decreased fertility, it can also put the woman and their baby at risk for the following pregnancy complications:
- Gestational diabetes
- Preterm birth or late stillbirth
- Low Apgar scores
- Low birth weight
- Higher incidence of newborn seizures
- Birth defects like congenital heart disease and cleft palate
- As these children mature, they have an increased likelihood of childhood cancers, psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and autism
It’s believed that random mutations in a man’s sperm pile up over the years which can pass genetic mutations to a child increases their risk of developing a psychological or neurocognitive disorder.
How can men improve their fertility health as they age?
Since men still have the ability to father children well into old age, are there steps they can take – if considering fatherhood – to improve sperm health and the effects of aging on male fertility?
There are certain lifestyle habits that are advised to practice if any man has even a small chance of wanting to conceive a baby. While there are no guarantees, the more men (and women) are proactive before attempting to conceive a child, the better the outcome usually will be.
Here are fertility health habits for all men of all ages to follow:
- Eating a healthier, nutrient-rich diet. Eat at least 5 servings each day of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lean meat, and fatty fish.
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Refrain from marijuana and illegal drug use
One other piece of advice for men wanting to keep their fertility options open as they age is to consider freezing and storing their semen in their 30s. This is particularly good for men who may change their minds about becoming a dad again after a vasectomy.