Exercise: It's Good For Your Sex Life Too

Photographed by Lula Hyers.
Working out regularly is great for a number of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the way you look. Exercise helps manage anxiety and depression, strengthens your muscles, wards off diseases, and can improve your sleep, to name a handful of positive effects. But exercise has another benefit that you may have overlooked: your sex life.
Any sexual activity is going to be a full-body experience that involves your muscles, blood vessels, and nerves, says Tina M. Penhollow, PhD, MCHES, associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Health Promotion at Florida Atlantic University. "Participating [in] and maintaining a regular exercise regimen that increases heart rate, breathing, and muscle activity can enhance sexual performance and sexual satisfaction which can ultimately lead to a better sex life."
Studies have investigated how exercise impacts sexual desire and sexual functioning. Aerobic workouts (such as walking, running, biking, or cardio dance) has been shown to increase circulation and blood flow, which are two factors involved in sexual response, Dr. Penhollow says. If your cardiovascular function improves, blood can flow more easily to the genitals, which is good for arousal, explains Lisa Dawn Hamilton, PhD, associate professor at Mount Allison University who studies the effects of stress on sexual response. Strength-training, on the other hand, has been shown to increase libido, reduce, stress, and improve people's overall body image, Dr. Penhollow says.
People who exercise tend to be more comfortable and confident in their bodies, Dr. Hamilton adds. "All those things can lead to improved sexual desire and arousal." Having a positive relationship to your body raises your self-esteem, making you feel sexy and confident during sexual activities, Dr. Penhollow says. On top of that, exercisers are often used to paying attention to their bodies, and have a strong mind-body connection, which heightens the sensations of sex even further, Dr. Hamilton says.
Hearing this might be enough for you to want to sign up for a workout class every day of your life — but there's a catch: "Over-exercising, calorie restriction, or anything that signals to your body that there's a stressful situation, can shut down your reproductive capacity," Dr. Hamilton explains. If your body is under too much stress from too much exercise, then that could reduce your desire and arousal, she says. Basically, it's important not to overdo your workouts, and stick to an activity that you enjoy and can sustain long-term.
So, whether you need motivation to squeeze in a sweat session, or are looking for ways to boost your sex drive, keep all of this information in mind. Who knows? Maybe this is the perfect excuse to get your partner to work out with you, too.

More from Fitness

R29 Original Series