I have to force myself to do it, but I feel better afterwards.

It works best if I do it first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, although sometimes I have to fit in a quick one at noon.

I am a lot crabbier if I don't do it. It's essential for my well-being.

The more I do it, the more into it I am.

Sometimes I get out of the routine of doing it, and then it's harder to get back into doing it.

This blog is about both stress and sex: how to decrease the former and enhance the latter. So, I ask you to re-read the quotes above with the following question in mind: Do you think these are things women are saying about sex?

The answer is that they certainly could be and in fact, I have heard many women say these things when talking about sex, particularly the first and last quote. However, these quotes are not about sex: they are about something that will enhance your sex life and decrease your stress simultaneously. They are about physical exercise.

Keeping exercise as a constant in my life is a lesson I have to keep re-learning. Usually, I exercise six days a week. Doing so keeps me calm and centered. However, last month, an entire week went by without me exercising. The first and second day, there were extenuating circumstances that prevented me from exercising. The third, fourth, fifth and six days were pure inertia. The two days I had gone without exercising had gotten me out of the rhythm. By the seventh day, I was sad, anxious, irritable, and asexual. Life had a cloud over it. On the eighth day, I exercised and felt better. I worked out again on the ninth day and by the tenth, I felt like myself again. I was interested in sex again. This experience reminded me that I need to exercise daily to keep my anxiety at bay and my sex drive in gear.

My story is bolstered by research. While most of us know that exercise is good for our physical health, studies also prove that it is good for our mental well-being and our sex lives. According to one study, 45- to 55-year old women who exercise report higher levels of sexual satisfaction than women who don't exercise. Another research study found that women who exercised were more sexually aroused after watching an erotic film than women who didn't exercise. Another study found that women who took up one specific form of exercise, yoga, experienced increased arousal and better orgasms. These research findings may be due to the fact that exercise increases blood flow all over the body - including to the genitals. Better circulation means enhanced sexual pleasure.

Exercise is also a very effective stress reducer. Studies show that a daily cardiovascular exercise routine reduces symptoms of anxiety. Exercise can also help decrease the symptoms of depression. One study found that exercise, when done consistently over 16 weeks, was roughly equivalent to the effects of taking anti-depressant medications. Exercise is one of the most effective, natural, low-risk mood enhancers around!

Another way that exercise improves both mood and libido is through the better sleep it promotes. Exercise, especially when done in the morning, will help you sleep better at night. Since many women say that both their irritability and their diminished sex drive are due to exhaustion, exercise can help both through its sleep enhancing qualities.

Another aspect of exercise that both helps enhance sex drive and diminish stress is its positive effects on body image. Exercise will help you feel better about your body, and thus help increase your motivation for, and comfort with, sex. Exercise also helps you get in touch with your body and its sensations; the more in touch you are with your body, the more likely you are to feel sexual. Exercise classes featuring erotic dancing, pole dancing, and belly dancing are often specifically designed to improve your body tone and enhance your sexuality at the same time.

As I explain in my book, A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex, another way to bolster exercise's sexuality enhancing effects is to focus on sexual thoughts and feelings as you exercise. In my book, I tell women to notice the sexual and sensual sensations that can occur during exercise. For example, when swimming, attend to the feeling of the water swirling around your body, including your genitals. Use exercise as a time to get in touch with your body and its sexuality.

Exercise both enhances sex drive and is a lot like sex. It's physically good for you. It's emotionally good for you. It will take your stress down a notch. And, the more you do it, the more you'll want to do it. Start an exercise program today!

About the Author

Laurie B. Mintz Ph.D.

Laurie Mintz, Ph.D, is a professor at the University of Florida, where she teaches the Psychology of Human Sexuality. She is a practicing licensed psychologist and the author of A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex.

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