Sex is an undeniably rewarding form of exercise. But if it's the only type of exercise that you get, you're probably not getting the most out of your workout. Regular exercise outside of the bedroom will do more than improve your health and mood. In many ways, it's bound to improve your sex life.
Setting the mood
A single good workout can prime the body for sex, says Jim Pfaus, PhD, now a retired professor of psychology and neuroscience at Concordia University in Montreal, who studied the biology of sexual desire. "That's one of the payoffs of going to the gym," he says. "When you increase your blood flow, you'll have a much easier time getting aroused." A person doesn't have to jump straight from a round of exercise to the bed to enjoy the benefits, either. "The high will remain for a few hours afterward, enough time for a nice dinner," Pfaus says.
Of course, anyone with romantic plans for the evening should try to save at least a little energy. People who work out obsessively may not feel like doing anything but sleeping when they get home, Pfaus says. In the long run, excessive exercise -- like training for a triathlon -- can slow the production of sex hormones in both men and women, potentially shifting sex drive into low gear. The consequences can be especially severe for women, Pfaus says. Exercise that requires rigorous training, such as excessive long-distance running, "can shut down a woman's ovaries," he says. She'll stop ovulating and menstruating, and she'll also lose interest in sex.
Of course, over-exercising is hardly a national problem. Most Americans could rev up their exercise time and see all kinds of benefits.
Exercise through the ages
Whether you're in your early 20s or early 80s, exercise that's regular and sensible can only enhance your sex life. A survey of more than 400 college students published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality found that young people who exercise regularly are especially satisfied with their attractiveness and their sexual functioning.
The benefits can be even more dramatic as people age. A study of more than 30,000 men in their 50s and beyond found that regular vigorous exercise is associated with a 30 percent lower risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), compared to men who exercised little or not at all. The same study also found high rates of ED in men who watch a lot of television.
Seriously ill people may be able to use exercise to add a spark to their sex lives. A small study published in the International Journal of Cardiology suggests that moderate exercise revitalized men with well-controlled heart failure. Thirty men rode stationary bikes for one hour, three times a week for eight weeks. Another group of 29 men didn't exercise. When the study was over, the cycling group reported improvement in their relationships with their partners, not to mention stronger erections and more sexual activity. (If you have heart disease or another serious illness, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.)
For the most part, there's no need to tailor your exercise routine to your sex life. Any exercise you get -- walking or swimming, weight lifting or bicycling -- will help. Women may want to try Kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Find these muscles by stopping urine in mid-flow. To do the exercises, squeeze the muscles to a count of four, then relax for a count of four. Try doing it for five minutes at a time, twice a day.
It may take a few months to notice results, but eventually Kegel exercises can increase the intensity of orgasms, and they can also help prevent incontinence. That's a workout with a definite payoff.
So remember, exercise is essential to good health. And any way you look at it, being healthy is sexy.
Interview with Jim Pfaus, PhD, a retired professor of psychology and neuroscience at Concordia University in Montreal.
Penhollow TM and M Young. Sexual desirability and sexual performance: Does exercise and fitness really matter? Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Vol. 7.
Bacon CG et al. Sexual function in men older than 50 years of age: results from the health professionals follow-up study. Annals of Internal Medicine;139(3): 161-168.
Belardinelli R et al. Effect of short-term moderate exercise training on sexual function in male patients with chronic stable heart failure. International Journal of Cardiology; 101(1): 83-90.
Stanford University. Kegel exercises. http://womenshealth.stanford.edu/femalesexualhealth-kegel.html
Warren, MP, Perlroth, NE. e effects of intense exercise on the female reproductive system.Journal of Endocrinology; 170, 3-11