The Surprising Ways Running Boosts Your Sex Life
Exercise is amazing for you: Study after study has confirmed its physical and mental health benefits—and those extend to the bedroom, too.
Now, research has confirmed that the bedroom boost from exercise isn’t just anecdotal. According to a new review published by the International Society for Sexual Medicine, following a regular exercise plan can improve nearly every aspect of a woman’s sex life.
“The review confirmed that exercise increases genital arousal in women,” said review author Amelia M. Stanton, Ph.D., a researcher at the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. That’s in addition to the indirect sexual effects of exercise seen by other studies, including improved cardiovascular function, mood, and body image.
So what about exercise actually makes your sex life better?
There are different explanations for the physical effects and the mental effects. Researchers believe activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)—responsible for the “fight or flight” response—is key for the improvement in genital arousal.
In a series of studies, Cindy Meston, Ph.D., director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, and her team have determined that moderate exercise is the intensity that works best to activate the SNS.
“Moderate sympathetic nervous system activation is key. Too much or too little doesn’t appear to significantly change levels of genital arousal,” Stanton explained. “When SNS activation is too high—as in, too much exercise—blood flow may shift away from the genital region to temporarily help restore the working muscles.”
Exercise has been shown to boost a variety of hormones responsible for arousal in women, including oestrogen, estradiol, prolactin, oxytocin, and testosterone.
To maximise those benefits of exercise, researchers have found that working out before sex has the biggest impact.
“There is evidence to suggest that exercising immediately prior to sexual activity may be more beneficial for sexual desire than exercising in general,” Stanton said.
Specifically, one study in the review had women cycle on a stationary bike for 20 minutes followed by watching an erotic film. The researchers marked genital arousal 5, 15, and 30 minutes post-exercise, and found that peak genital arousal occurred between 15 and 30 minutes after they stopped pedalling.
“Compared to both low and high intensity exercise, moderate intensity exercise prior to viewing a sexual film led to the greatest increases in vaginal blood flow relative to baseline,” said Stanton.
Those are just the physical sexual effects of exercise: The mental benefits play a big role in the bedroom boost, too. According to the review, regular exercise has been shown to improve body image and mood, which can help improve women’s desire.
“Women who feel good in general and feel good about their bodies may be less likely to become distracted or mentally disengaged during sexual activity,” said Stanton.
As for which kind of exercise—running vs. weight training, for instance—is more effective? While the review sought to answer this question, the jury is still out on an answer. That’s because the majority of studies looking at sex response to exercise tend to use cycling on a stationary bicycling, due to simple study design. So more research needs to be done to compare the response to different kinds of exercise—and perhaps to determine if there is a duration or number of sets or reps that yield the greatest benefits.
In the meantime, you can use Stanton’s recommendations to make your exercise plan work for your sex life, too.
“Our suggestion would be to keep the exercising to a moderate level, and the more exercising that can be done within the short window of time prior to engaging in sexual activity, the better,” Stanton said.