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Thursday, December 21, 2006

All about sex: The connection between libido and exercise

This is the second of several articles about Libido. While I am not an expert in such matters, here is my understanding of the exercise physiology that works behind the scenes.

Having spent 20 years in the gym industry there has been more than the occasional passing comment from clients that their sex lives have received a boost of energy and enjoyment after commencing a fitness programme. This sure has been the case where couples work out together. Let's look at some of the possible reasons:

A plumber's view of the penis The penis is like a mass of flexible pipes encased in a flexible casing. Blood flows in through the arteries and flows out via the veins. During arousal, the outflow is clamped off, causing the penis to balloon. It's as simple as that. How effectively this happens depends on the blood flow and the tone of the blood vessels. Decreasing cardiovascular health may reduce penile performance because:
  • The power of the pump (heart) is insufficient to maintain a strong inflow into the penis.
  • Arteries can become progressively clogged like a kitchen sink drain pipe that has had fat poured down it over the years, reducing blood flow
  • There may be fewer of the prolific microscopic blood vessels in the flesh (capillaries)
  • The blood vessel walls lose tone and flexibility and are therefore less able to fully constrict to cause and maintain an erection.

The urban myth of the sexual stamina of the long distance runner has some merits from a straight analysis of the workings of the body's plumbing. Endurance exercise strengthens the heart, tones the blood vessels and causes a proliferation of capillaries.

Testosterone: The Agressor Hormone A powerful libido factor at work in both men and women is declining testosterone levels with age. Testosterone has a direct effect on libido in both men and women, despite the commonly held belief that this "male" hormone is found only in men. As we all know, men have two brains and it is speculated that testosterone works on both. Testosterone levels peak during one's 20's and progressively declines over the following decades.

Vigorous exercise like sprinting and lifting heavy weights, that build muscle elevates testosterone levels. This applies to both men and women. The converse can be assumed: Deteriorating strength and muscle tone with inactivity will be associated with lowering testosterone levels. So, one way to counter natural reductions in testosterone production with ageing is to do explosive exercise and lift heavy weights.

Those who work out together, stay together Working out together, whether it is a run in the bush, or lifting weights is a bit like an extended foreplay session. Shared experiences - be they fun-filled, exciting, daring or a thrilling achievement like climbing a mountain peak or completing a half marathon - bring couples closer together with a shared exhilaration.

There's just something about hard bodies Its not just the extra testosterone or the better blood flow, or the feeling closer with your partner: Let's face it - a strong, toned body has a certain physical attraction for most and it generally works a lot better.

So here is Dr Sex's workout prescription for lasting libido:

  • Do two long, slow endurance workputs per week (rowing, cycling, running, walking, swimming, hiking etc).
  • Do a progressive weights lifting programme 2-3 times a week to build muscle.
  • Take up an explosive, exhilarating physical activity with your partner like restricted full-contact boxing, karate, judo, netball, indoor soccer, badminton, squash, climbing, sprinting, shot-putting and do 2 times a week.
  • Take weekly dancing classes with your partner.
  • Make sure that you are having fun together when you are doing these.
  • Then, if you have any time and energy left after doing all of the above; make love!

A final piece of advice: Use it, or lose it! Every organ in the body (male or female), be that brain, penis, muscles, bones or heart; responds to how it is being used by strengthening those functions that receive the most use, while reducing the functions that recieve the least. So, if your penis is going the way of the vestigial Appendix, you now know what you have to do - give it a regular workout like any other muscle 2-3 times a week.

The next article is about nutrition. In the meantime, start working on the fitness, if you are not already.

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