The reason why a hop on the stationary bike or a circuit weight
training session can boost a man's bedroom performance is that E.D. is mostly
a plumbing problem caused by a lack of blood flow to the penis.
Bruckman, executive director of the American Foundation for Urologic
Disease in Baltimore, claims "to the extent that exercise increases your
ability to pump blood and boost circulation, it helps your sexual
function." And it's cheaper than the medical equivalent of calling
Dyno-Rod (e.g., penile implants).
Moreover, Dr. Irwin Goldstein of the Boston University School of
Medicine, who also worked on the Male Ageing Study, says that "impotence can
be an early warning sign of heart artery disease, since the penis is
more sensitive to blockages in blood flow than the heart." So if you
exercise, you reduce not only your risk of Erectile Dysfunction,
but other medical
conditions that can put a much bigger crimp in your love life.
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Besides blood flow improvement, science is demonstrating other
physiological links between exercise and sexual health. According to Arthur
Leon, a professor at the University of Minnesota who wrote of the health
benefits of exercise in the US Surgeon General's 1996 report, recent
scientific data suggests that exercise increases the synthesis of nitric
oxide, a substance in blood vessels that Viagra and similar drugs help
manufacture, and that boosts potency.
And in a recent study conducted at the University of North Carolina's
Applied Physiology lab, Dr. A.C. Hackney found that athletes who
exercised at 70 percent of their VO2 max experienced a 40 percent increase in
free-testosterone, a 38 percent increase in cortisol, and a (TK)
increase in epinephrine. These higher hormonal levels all result in
heightened sexual arousal.
Exercise also has an impact on your quality-of-sex-life by reducing
joint and muscle pain, says Richard Cotton, exercise physiologist with
First Fitness, Inc., and an ACE spokesperson. "You become more flexible
and more free of pain from backaches and such. All of these things
allow you to have sex and not hurt yourself." (Always a top priority.)
JUMP START YOUR LIBIDO
Exercise isn't a gender-biased sex aid, either; it can help women
jump-start their libido, too, says Dr. Cindy Meston, assistant professor of
clinical psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Meston
researched 35 young women (ages 18-34) who on two separate occasions, watched
first a travel film, then an X-rated film (edited to five minutes in
Meston's lab, she says). The first time they cycled vigorously for 20
minutes, the second time they didn't. Meston measured their sexual
response, using a device that measures blood flow in genital tissue, and found
that after exercising, the women's vaginal responses were 169 percent
Meston says that while the study didn't compare differences in
fitness levels, "it showed that when you do cardio exercise, it not only
elevates your blood pressure and heart rate and increases vascularity all
over the body, but also seems to facilitate sexual performance." Meston
says that exercise also enhances libido by stimulating the nervous
system. "Of course, a good shot of espresso might have the same effect, but
only for an hour or two." (In an emergency, if you can't hit the gym,
there's always Starbuck's.)
Meston also emphasizes that while short-term (acute) exercise enhances
one's sex life for the aforementioned reasons, chronic (long-term)
exercise helps remove the serious psychological obstacles to sexual
LOSE WEIGHTAs many weight-challenged people know, one's sex life is often at the
mercy of poor self- esteem and body image, which often stem from
obesity. Patricia Esperon, a behavioural therapist at the Duke Diet and
Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. who teaches a class there on the relationship
between sexuality and weight, says that being overweight creates many
issues that stifle both libido and performance. "My overweight clients
may feel they're invisible," she says. "Or they use their weight as a
defense against being sexual or involved with someone." The problems
multiply once they start a relationship. "If one half of a couple starts
losing weight, the other might fear infidelity. Some people may refuse to
lose the weight so they won't engage in infidelity. Lastly, when you
don't feel good about yourself, you generally don't have much of a sex
When you tack on the physiological effects of obesity on sexual
performance - diabetes, hypertension, a lack of stamina, and hygiene
problems - obesity can mean a long exile to a Siberia of celibacy and
JOIN A GYMThat's where exercise can help, says Dr. Richard Balon, a professor of
psychiatry at the Wayne State University School of Medicine Detroit,
MI. "People who work out generally feel a lot better about themselves."
Cotton adds that once you regain self-esteem, "You're going to be less
inhibited and embarrassed, and more open to a sexual experience."
In Esperon's view, exercise "gets you in touch with the idea that
you're a physical person - overweight people tend to lose contact with
that" - and has an ancillary benefit, as well. "Think of the people you
might meet at the gym."
Once you get yourself to a health club, what should you do besides
scoping out potential partners? Cotton recommends a fully balanced
exercise program, consisting of regular aerobic activity, strength training,
and stretching for flexibility - at least three times a week - under the
supervision of an accredited trainer.
DON'T OVERDO ITJust don't overdo it, Leon cautions. "Heavy exercise decreases
testosterone, which may have an adverse effect on sexual health," he claims.
Plus, overtraining in general suppresses your immune function.
And as beneficial as exercise is, it just may not work for some E.D.
sufferers, according to Bruckman. "If there's an overriding
psychological disorder that's causing your sexual dysfunction, you can be Mark
Spitz but you're not going to have an erection."
Men in this category may not be able to resist the lure of Viagra;
others may just be too impatient to wait through six months of the slow,
steady improvements they'll get from exercise. "They see advertisements and they want a quick fix," Balon says. And while he
condones the drug's use for many, he adds this caveat: "Some people - like
those on cardiac medication - shouldn't be taking Viagra. And if you're
in poor enough physical shape, even if you can get an erection, you
won't be able to keep it - Viagra or not. After all, sexual intercourse is
a physical exercise."
Exercise and Sex Begins
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