Reader Response: Being Fit is Good for Sex

Last week we heard from reader, primalman08, in response to the Top 10 Reasons to Stay Healthy post:

I would like to encourage you to do more on the sexual benefits of living well. In my practice, I am astonished and saddened to hear about the lack of sex people over 50 are having with their partners. It goes well beyond just ED. It has to do with fatigue, low libido, poor body image and difficulties with positioning due to BMI. I hate to be so frank about it, but it is true and I feel it is very important. I hope that you/we can spend more time addressing this highly personal, highly important topic.

Physical health, we wholeheartedly agree, is downright crucial for sexual well-being, for numerous reasons. And we think it’s a message that’s gotten lost in the ad mix these days. Yes, at this point the images of claw footed bathtubs on hilltops and log cabin jam sessions have etched (or mercilessly seared) themselves into the collective consciousness of our society. (Ladies: the pharmaceutical industry has had a harder time coming up with ideas for you. In 2004, Viagra’s makers literally threw up their hands and gave up, citing women’s confounding lack of causal connection between arousal response and sexual interest.)

Annoyingly omnipresent as these ads are, we’ll give them this: they have encouraged the more seasoned of our society to envision the possibility that they can enjoy healthy sexual functioning in their later decades. Our beef with the ads: society’s growing association between healthy sexual functioning with a pill instead of overall health itself.

Behind the Dysfunctional Scene

The truth is, healthy men and women should be able to enjoy fulfilling sexual experience decades past middle age without the use of the latest pharmaceutical concoction. But healthy is the operative word here. There are, of course, many physiological and psychological factors behind sexual dysfunction.

For men, in particular, conditions that negatively impact vascular health, such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure as well as obesity, back pain, and lack of physical fitness all serve to raise the risk of sexual dysfunction and/or diminished performance/libido.

For women (as the Viagra anecdote illustrates), factors are more complex, including the above physiological conditions as well as other conditions. Just as ED is the common buzzword for men’s sexual dysfunction, HSDD (hypoactive sexual desire disorder) has been applied to women’s common experiences in this arena. Experts estimate that 14-55% of women experience HSDD, with older women accounting for the upper percentages.

Add to the mix, we find all-too-common hormonal imbalance – and not just in terms of the “sex hormones.” Experts agree that hypothyroidism is a major factor in women’s sexual health. For some women, sexual dysfunction can be traced to unaddressed anatomical problems like prolapsed uterus, incontinent bladder and a weakened pelvic floor, conditions often related to childbirth.

Beyond the realm of physical conditions and impairments lies the more subjective side of one’s psychological experience of and interest in sex. Little wonder, is it, that stress figures into the picture for so many men and women. Given the physical toll stress can take on the body and its overwhelming ability to distract our thoughts and attention, stress naturally (but unfortunately) leaves us emptied of the motivation, creativity and emotional energy crucial to both the desire and the effort required for sexual fulfillment.

The Benefits of Health

So, besides popping a pill, what can the more mature among us do to retain and enhance our sexual functioning and fulfillment? While the initial proposals seem obvious, we don’t seem to hear them often enough. Since so much of sexual function relates to vascular health, it’s crucial to keep blood pressure in check and to prevent or actively treat diabetes and atherosclerosis. For both sexes, diet (i.e. low carb and good fatty acid balance) and exercise (i.e. moderate cardio and regular strength conditioning) that promotes hormonal balance is key.

It’s important, of course, to keep body mass index (not the best indicator of health, we know) as close as possible to recommended levels. Well-rounded physical fitness offers the benefits of sexual endurance as well as the muscular strength and litheness advantageous to positioning and comfort. Numerous studies have supported the impact of exercise and physical fitness on body image, sexual function, confidence, responsiveness, performance, and fulfillment. Keep in mind, however, that compulsive or exhaustive exercise can inhibit sexual functioning in both genders because of its impact on hormonal balance.

In addition to standard physical conditioning, women can especially benefit from exercise such as pilates and some yoga positions, that focuses on strengthening pelvic floor muscles. Look for a physical therapist with experience in this area or individual consultations with a well trained pilates instructor. A strong pelvic floor can support bladder control as well as significantly enhance arousal experience and orgasm.

Nutritional and herbal supplements can augment a healthy lifestyle to further boost sexual function. Gingko biloba, for example, is commonly advised for vascular health, while B-complex and other anti-oxidant supplements are recommended for lessening the physical toll of stress. Testosterone is a commonly discussed treatment for both men and women. We recommend lifestyle changes that will naturally sustain or enhance testosterone production. For men, strength training is key. For women, whose testosterone levels naturally don’t increase as much with exercise, we recommend diet and exercise that maintains overall hormonal balance and individual consultation with physicians regarding the impact of particular hormonal replacement therapies and birth control pills (which can blunt natural rises in testosterone during mid-cycle).

Thanks, as always, for the great questions, and keep ’em coming! And please do offer feedback on this and all of our reader response posts.

krisdecurtis, notsogoodphotography, thecameo Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Secret to Great Abs

Washington Post: French Women Don’t Get Fat and Do Get Lucky

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15 thoughts on “Reader Response: Being Fit is Good for Sex”

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  1. This post really struck a cord with me. My, ahem, relations with my wife have slowed down as a result of an injury I was involved in. I am on my way back to feeling great and being healthy again. I never would have chosen to be in the state that I am in, i.e. I never would have made lifestyle choices to end up in a position where I can’t perform. Stay healthy and enjoy life!

  2. I think it’s just part of nature’s plan….if you are sick and unhealthy….it doesn’t want you to reproduce…so things stop working…but if you are healthy and vibrant…nature wants more of you out there!

  3. Luckily for us, Mike OD, we are capable of circumventing what nature has in store for us. 😉

  4. Thanks Mark. I really think that this is an important topic as a lot of sexual dysfunction is a symptom of a greater issue. You are correct in writing that the drug companies do all they can to capitalize on the symptom of sexual dysfunction while life style issues are ignored.

    I often tell my patients to watch/do the following 4 things. Eat well, sleep well, exercise and have sex with someone you love.

    If any of these 3 things seem off, i.e. appetite change, energy change, insomnia or hyper-somnia, decreased libido or inability to perform, then it is likely that you are getting away from being a good cave-man.

    I don’t say it quite like this, but close.

  5. Just a comment on the hypothyroidism article. The article pointed out that hypoT. affects 10% of women over 50. That’s laughable. It is much higher than that and affects all people of all ages. Yes, hypoT. affects every system in the body. “A simple blood test”, the author is so clueless.

  6. Flotrol promotes bladder contol for overactive bladders. Don’t let your bladder dictate your schedule – take control with the Flotrol Natural Bladder Support supplement.

  7. Thanks for the post. What do you all think of the future of blogging? I have been reading a lot about google’s attempt to gain preferential treatment for its site from internet providers. This will result in their sites being faster than sites owned by individuals and/or smaller comapnies. It’s my beleif that if google is able to succeed there will be far less websites out there and therefore far less blogging.

  8. I am interested in finding out what the impact of sex prior too or after a workout could be. I can assume that sex prior to workout will hinder the effort and intensity of the workout to follow, but I’m really intersted in the affects of post workout sexual foreplay/sex as I am sure most can agree that post workout hormonal levels are quite high. How does it affect the muscle growth (repair) of tissue, testosterone, etc.
    I hope this Comment and the inquiries within attract some attention and is acknowledged by those whom have studied or even perhaps have a profession in such subjects.

    1. There was a show on TV about that very thing. They tested a boxer’s punch power after abstaining for days, and right after sex. No change.

  9. As I was having my left over steak from the night before along with fresh eggs for Breaky I started to ponder of the life and activity of Grok in order to desid eon my workout for the day. I figure Grok would have done some traveling along a natural grass/mountain/wet land, Wresteling with his pray, some heavy lifting and carrying of his kill. Of course Grok would have had to carry his kill back to Mrs.Grok. Then I began to think of the other factor of life, sex. Would have Mrs.Grok been sexually aroused because her alpha male had just hunted, battled, and brought home a saubertooth or deer of sorts? If she had, and rewarded Grok for his ultra male performance out in the wild, would have it been beneficial for Grok and his body to have indulged in such behaviour after such a workout? Would sex and other forms of pleasure be beneficial for the growth and repair of muscles after an intense workout? This would be beneficial to all male and female Groks to know and understand….

    I hope this inquiry is given attention and comments.

  10. Before you decide to marry check out the mother. If the mother’s hormones are shot and into thyroid-itus…you are likely to experience the same with the daughter.