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Feeling Fit Heightens Bedroom Bliss

HEALTHTRACK - JUL/AUG 97
A SUPPLEMENT TO THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE FOR THE WAITING ROOM


Exercise has plenty of benefits. It improves stamina, builds muscle tone, strengthens the cardiovascular system, and increases life expectancy. And one more: Exercise may heat up your sex life.

If you've been needing a strong motivator to exercise, this may be it. Research shows that an exercise program, along with other healthy activities like eating well, getting plenty of rest, and stopping smoking, appears to have a positive effect on sexuality for people of all ages. For example, University of California-San Diego researchers put 78 middle-aged men on an aerobic exercise program. The men exercised at moderate intensity for 60 minutes a day, 3 or 4 days a week. After 9 months, they reported having more—and more satisfying—sex and orgasms. By comparison, 17 other men in the study who worked out at a less intense level—they walked at a relatively slow pace—reported no improvement in their sex lives. So if you're a walker, you may want to add a little spring to your step.

The Joy of Spandex

Why is exercise an aphrodisiac? No one knows exactly, but researchers speculate that there are several reasons. Exercise improves your overall health, and that promotes better functioning of all of the body's systems. Because sex is a whole-body experience, it makes sense that you'll enjoy it more if you keep your muscles, blood vessels, and nerves performing at peak levels.

There are other practical reasons why getting physical helps you enjoy "getting physical." Fit people are less likely to tire during sex. Improved muscle tone may heighten sexual pleasure, because orgasms depend on muscle activity.

Older men seem to have the most to gain from the bedroom benefits of exercise; it improves cardiovascular fitness—crucial for sexual functioning—and raises libido by raising testosterone levels that normally wane as men age.

Sex is as much mental as it is physical, and exercise's benefits can work at an emotional level, too. Feeling healthier and more toned can raise your self-esteem and make you feel more attractive.

Watch Your Ardor

Given the allure of exercise, it's easy to see why some people might go to extremes to maximize the benefits. But if you exercise too much, your spouse or partner may become resentful—and that can put a damper on your sex life. If this sounds familiar, see if you can find a way to make exercise something you can share—you could double the benefit to your sex life.

The harmful effects of overexercising can be physical, too. Those who overtrain may find that they're too tired for sex. Women who overdo it may miss their menstrual periods, which can impair fertility and weaken the bones. For men, exercising too intensely may reduce sex drive, lower sperm quality and number, and make it difficult to achieve erections.

So exercise as a sex-life enhancer is like other romantic pleasures, from a vintage wine to a chocolate dessert: Enjoy in moderation.


Bliss With Caution:

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Exercise may liven your sex life, but contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can deflate your desire and threaten your health.

What are STIs? They're infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other tiny organisms that are spread by all types of sexual contact. The most common STIs are chlamydial infection, genital herpes, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, pubic lice, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Your body often alerts you to an STI. You may find a growth, sore, irritation, or discharge in the genital area. You may have abdominal pain, fever, rash, and pain and swelling in muscles or joints.

But sometimes you can be infected without knowing it. Women with chlamydial infection may have a slight vaginal discharge, but most have no symptoms at all. Early HIV infection causes few symptoms.

What can STIs do to you? Some can have serious consequences, such as infertility and cancer, if ignored. Pregnant women who have untreated STIs can have a miscarriage or premature labor, or the baby may be born with birth defects or severe infections. And HIV leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which is fatal.

Most STIs can be cured and their serious complications avoided if you catch them early, so if you think you have been exposed, seek medical care right away. Treatment usually consists of a course of an appropriate antibiotic. Even STIs that can't be cured can often be treated to reduce discomfort and complications.

The best "cure," though, is prevention, and the most effective STI prevention is no sexual relations or sex only between two STI-free, faithful partners. Beyond these two choices, talk openly with your partner about past sexual activities and infections, and reduce your risk by limiting the number of sexual partners and using a condom.

If you really want to heighten bedroom bliss, you'll have to exercise caution as well as your body.


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