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Exercising has got a tonne of benefits: it increases energy levels, reduces the risk of chronic diseases and is used as a treatment for mental health challenges. But what does exercising actually do for your sex life?
You’ve likely heard that there is a lot to gain by exercising. For one, studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. But how about your sex life, how can that be affected by exercise?
We talked to Teresa Bergin, clinical sex- and psychotherapist, to get some clarity in how staying active can affect your experiences in the bedroom. Teresa is working as a clinical practitioner and has two private practices in Dublin, where she’s counselling individuals and couples daily.
According to her, staying active brings with it a range of benefits for your love life. One of the main benefits for men is the effect it has on the cardiovascular system.
Erectile dysfunction is a common issue for men over the age of 40. By exercising regularly, you help to keep your cardiovascular system (your heart and arteries) in check, which makes it significantly less likely to develop erectile difficulties. “The benefits of exercise for men are really important in that regard,” Teresa said.
For women, there are benefits to staying fit as well. Studies have shown that women taking anti-depressants (that can impair sexual arousal) can increase their genital arousal by working out regularly. This has to do with the fact that exercise works as a natural anti-depressant, without the inconvenient side-effects.
And for the ones who aren’t experiencing any issues with the arousal part, things might just get even better after a workout session:
“If you get an increased blood flow to the vulva region, you’re going to experience better orgasms. That’s also related to pelvic floor health, so the stronger your pelvic floor is, the better your sexual satisfaction will be.”
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Exercising seems to be able to boost your sex life in various ways, regardless of your gender: “I would recommend exercise to all my clients. In fact, I would recommend it to everyone.”
“Training reduces anxiety and depression, which makes us feel better in ourselves. If you’re stress- and anxiety free, you’ll be more relaxed, in a better mood and therefore more open to having sex,” Teresa explained. “There’s a really positive knock-on effect from exercise.”
But according to Teresa, it’s not as simple as saying that ‘if you exercise, your sex life will get better’. “Sexuality is a complex issue, there are lots and lots of other variables,” she said, continuing: “It will have a benefit, but it’s not a magic bullet”.
Teresa also mentioned that the increase in your endorphin release, that you get from working out, will work its magic with the natural anti-depressant features that it holds – which are simply making you feel happier. She then circled back to what seems to be a keystone in the ‘exercise for a better sex life theory’, namely: feeling better, and more confident, about yourself:
“It’s a complicated relationship. If you exercise, you tend to feel better about your body, and that more positive body image would make it more likely that you’d want to be sexual.”
On the downside, it seems that too much of the good stuff can cause a backlash:
“For people who exercise too strenuously, or overtrain, then the effect will be going in the opposite direction. If they’re too fatigued, then that is going to have a negative impact on energy and sexual desire,” Teresa said.
According to various studies, excessive training is also believed to impact men’s testosterone levels by making them drop, which could lead to poor muscle development, sleeping disorders and low libido.
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It might have the same effect on women as well, as training heavily can make your periods stop (among other things): “That’s mainly due to a drop in body rate, but there is a possibility that it has an effect on the sex-hormone oestrogen as well. So it could have a negative effect on your sex life in that regard,” Teresa explained.
“Essentially, if you’re over-training, and you’re very tired and all your time, energy and focus is going into that, it’s obviously going to reduce the energy you have for sex.”
It seems like the magic word here, ladies and gentlemen, is balance.
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By Heather Snelgar
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