Research now makes it clear that your sex life is intimately tied to your sweat life. Those who exercise regularly have greater sexual interest and better sexual functioning. Ok, we don’t know if this is true for everyone. There is so much more research on exercise and sex for men, but there are indications that women may enjoy this connection as well, with one study indicating greater sexual desire and ease of orgasm with regular physical activity in women.
For men, there appear to be two sexual benefits for regular exercise: exercise is linked to higher sexual satisfaction, and, perhaps more importantly, exercise helps improve sexual functioning. One example of the former comes from a recent survey of several thousand men and women in Hong Kong. In the survey, men reported a clear link between the levels of exercise and sexual satisfaction. Other predictors of better sex were lower levels of work, home, and financial stress – predicting sexual satisfaction in both men and women. When it comes to men, though, there is an even more important effect of exercise: protection against sexual dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction (difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection with sexual stimulation) strikes men at increasing rats across the lifespan. It affects a relative minority of men under age 40, but with increasing rates as men age - afflicting around a third of men in their 60s. Across the age span, rates of erectile dysfunction are higher for obese individuals, and are linked with the overall level of cardiovascular fitness. What is noteworthy, however, is that regular exercise appears to protection against erectile dysfunction, even if it does not lead to weight loss. These protective effects can be seen in older men, where rates of difficulties are higher, but can also be found for young men. For example, in a study of men under age 40, regular exercise was linked to better erectile functioning. Indeed, rates of overall sexual satisfaction for sedentary young men was almost half that for exercisers according to a study in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. That is, regular exercise may not only save your life and improve your mood, but it can help make life more fun as well – helping you have and maintain a better sex life. So men, next time you have trouble getting up off the couch, remember exercise can help you get up in bed as well.
Perhaps the best news is that exercise and diet can also be used as a treatment strategy for erectile dysfunction. For example, a randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of the American Medical association in 2004 showed that obese men with erectile dysfunction (aged 35 to 55 years) could significantly improve their erectile functioning following a program of regular exercise and weight loss. Other well controlled trials have also replicated this effect, with some studies emphasizing the importance of a Mediterranean diet along with regular exercise.
I, like other psychologists, will not recommend that you run away from your problems. But I will recommend that you run or walk along with your problems. For good mood and good sex, the prescription seems to be the same – start and maintain a regular program of exercise aimed at improving your well being. And remember what we have emphasized in these pages already, moderate exercise is enough to get the health, mood, and now sexual benefits out of regular exercise. Find an activity you enjoy, and pay attention whether regular exercise helps you get more of what you want out of life.
Copyright Michael Otto
Drs. Michael Otto and Jasper Smits are authors of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well Being.