“Why???We Were Just So Comfortable On You”

What’s the effect of regular exercise on sex? For most people, it acts as a mild aphrodisiac. A variety of studies have shown that men and women who keep themselves trim and toned tend to have lustier sex lives, and remain sexually active later in life, compared with people who are relatively inactive. There is an outer limit to this cheerful news, however: Driven, compulsive exercisers actually have lower sex drives than people who understand the meaning of moderation.


Women’s Sexual Second Wind



The libidinous effects of exercise have been demonstrated in both men and women. Linda DeVillers, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in Los Angeles, was intrigued when she noticed that after a day of swimming or skiing, she felt sexually stirred up. She wondered if other women might experience a similar “sexual second wind” after exercise and polled 8,000 female readers of a fitness magazine to find out. A quarter of these women reported that they, too, felt sexually aroused immediately after working out; only 3 percent said their libidos did not seem up to par.

The long-term effects of exercise were even more pronounced. Almost a third of the women reported they had sex more often after beginning their exercise program, 40 percent said they’d noticed an increase in their ability to be aroused, and 89 percent said exercise had given their sexual self-confidence a boost.


Sexual Aerobics for Men


Aerobic Exercise

Another study showed similar effects in a group of 78 sedentary middle-aged men. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, rounded up these healthy but inactive men, whose mean age was 48, and put them on a vigorous, nine-month-long exercise program. Although they worked into it gradually, by the sixth month the men were doing sustained aerobic exercise (pushing their hearts up to 75-80 percent of their maximum aerobic capacity) for a full hour at least three times a week. A similar group of 17 middle-aged, sedentary men was on a program of moderate walking for an hour about four times a week. Both groups kept detailed diaries about all sorts of things, including their sex lives, during the first and last months of the program.

After nine months, predictably enough, the men on the no-nonsense exercise program had increased their overall fitness levels by 30 percent. Their frequency of intercourse increased via 30 percent (to three times a week), the frequency of orgasms increased via 26 percent, the frequency of masturbation increased via 50 percent (to roughly once every ten days). At the same time, in both groups, their sexual dissatisfaction or dysfunction (such as trouble achieving or maintaining and erection) noticeably decreased.

Walkers increased their fitness levels via only 3 percent during the study, compared with a 30 percent increase among the more strenuous exercisers. (Obviously, the walkers weren’t breaking any speed records.) Even so, walkers reduced their anxiety as much as the exercisers, and bumped up their levels of good cholesterol, reported more sexual fantasies and more desire for intercourse than before the study started. Walking may not qualify as Olympic-level training, but don’t overlook its mild-mannered benefits.


Brisk Walking


Exercise, Sex and Aging


Weight Training

Studies of a different sort have shown that people who keep themselves in fighting trim also tend to stay sexually active far later in life than walkers. In one small-scale study, a behavioral scientist at Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, looked at the sex lives of 160 Masters Swimmers, one group in their 40’s and another in their 60’s. These people were not just moderately fit, they were super fit, training an average of an hour a day, four or five days a week –a few of them even more.

“The men and women in our study reported sex lives more like those of people in their 20’s and 30’s than those of their contemporaries,” reported Phillip Whitten, Ph.D., and his research associate Elizabeth J. Whiteside. “Not only that, the people in their 60’s reported sex lives comparable to those in their 40’s,” making love an average of about seven times a month.


Why Fit Equals Sexy


Group Exercise

What, precisely, is the connection between staying fit and staying sexy? Well, there are a few obvious reasons, like enhanced self-esteem. Hey, when you look good….you feel good! And also, you partner feels good about you. Eighty percent of the Masters Swimmers rated themselves as attractive or very attractive, but they were just being humble –their spouses or lovers rated them as even more attractive than what they rated themselves. But there is a physiological explanation as well. Cardiovascular fitness seems to have a direct effect on men’s sexual performance, because attaining and maintaining a serviceable erection requires good circulation. One of the body’s responses to regular exercise is increased blood volume throughout the entire body, including the genitals.

Exercise also has an effect on circulating levels of testosterone –the hormonal trigger of sex in both men and women. Although the physiology is complex and the studies don’t all agree, quite a few have shown that testosterone levels rise after short-term, moderately vigorous exercise. One study showed significantly elevated serum testosterone levels after men ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes –although in women, these levels rose only after 120 minutes of exertion. But remember, some women already have higher levels of testosterone which would mean that for these women it would not take much exertion for their levels to be raised.


The Outer Limit



Like almost everything else, exercise is best if it’s seasoned with reason. If a little jogging is great for your love life, a whole lot of jogging is not necessarily better. It’s well known, for instance, that female athletes who train too ferociously or get too lean develop athletic amenorrhea –in effect, their bodies turn off the menstrual cycle. Their bodies are saying, in essence, “I’m under horrific stress –now is a lousy time to get pregnant!”

Quite a few studies have also shown that continuous, exhausting exercise drives down testosterone levels and takes the steam out of the libido. Rather dramatic declines in testosterone have been shown in male ultra-marathon runners after a 100-mile race, for instance. And one study of fanatical, driven male athletes, who tended to be as obsessed with leanness as anorexics and took up running with an almost religious zeal, found that their marriages were also “often impersonal and asexual.”

So, how much exercise does it take to drive down the testosterone levels –what, in effect, is the outer limit? Well, fortunately, it’s way out there. A researcher at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Ariel Barkan, M.D., has estimated that you would have to run 200 miles a week to seriously disrupt your hormones. By contrast, “there appears to be something magical about running 30 miles per week,” says Jay Schinfeld, M.D., a triathlete who is also chief of endocrinology at the Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. But it is still my humble opinion, despite sport bras, that women who runs too much may end up flat chested in the long run. (The breast consists of mostly fat) You don’t have to exercise that hard to experience the positive effects of exercise on sexuality, but once you start going above it, you increase your risk of injury.

Have You Started Your Fitness Goals Yet?


Speak Your Mind