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We spoke to Kelli Young, a Toronto-based couple and sex therapist, about the importance of physical activity for maintaining a healthy sex drive. She shared five types of exercise that can help boost your libido.
1. Exercise that reduces stress
Stress, which we all experience to varying degrees, causes elevated levels of cortisol and clutters the brain. Physical activity, however, releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that help counteract cortisol levels and generate an overall feeling of relaxation and well-being, and that are oh-so important for sexual desire.
''If our mind is crowded with all of these stresses and anxieties, it is very difficult for us to transfer into a more erotic mindset, which is necessary for sexual desire and arousal,'' says Young.
Try: Yoga. ''It promotes a mind-body connection and allows us to feel more tuned in to our bodies,'' explains Young. ''It teaches us how to breathe, relax and achieve a sense of calm and relaxation.''
2. Exercise that boosts energy
''One of the main reasons women complain of low sex drives is because they’re so tired. They’re multi-tasking all of the time and they’re busy with both work and home life responsibilities,'' says Young. ''Sex often falls to the bottom of our to-do lists and at the end of the day we have no energy left.''
Exercise actually helps to improve energy levels and ameliorate sleep, which is intrinsically tied to our cortisol levels and feelings of stress. ''If we’re less stressed and we have more energy during the day then we sleep better, which gives us more energy during the day, which makes us feel less stressed. It’s a positive cycle,'' she explains.
Try: Walking. Even low- to moderate-intensity exercise, like a quick jaunt around the block, can increase your mental alertness and up your energy levels. Start finding excuses to put on your walking shoes, even if it’s for only 10 minutes at a time.
3. Exercise that increases circulation
According to Young, proper circulation is essential for our sexual function. ''For men, blood flow to the penis is the main mechanism of an erection. For women, an increase of blood flow to the genitals causes engorgement – and that really heightens sensation,'' she says. ''When we have that, we’re more likely to reach higher levels of arousal and orgasm, and when sex feels better, we desire it more.''
Blood flow will also increase lubrication, reducing pain, friction and the risk of developing yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
Try: Running or aerobics classes. These types of exercise will also improve your aerobic capacity and endurance levels, both of which may come in handy in the bedroom.4. Exercise that regulates hormones
Hormonal balance is critical to sexual desire and all of the mechanisms of sexual arousal. ''For women in particular, sexual satisfaction is very much connected to sexual desire,'' explains Young. ''If sex is working properly and if sex feels good, then we’re more likely to want more of it.''
Physical activity has proven beneficial to help regulate hormones and to decrease some of the troublesome symptoms associated with PMS, such as bloating, cramping, mood swings and even headaches, making it easier to get in the mood.
Try: Resistance training. ''Increased muscle mass also increases our testosterone levels, and testosterone is the primary hormone responsible for sexual desire and drive in both men and women,'' explains Young.
5. Exercise that improves self-image
Weight and body image issues are often the culprits behind low levels of sexual desire. Luckily, physical activity can do wonders for improving the way you feel about your body. If you’re proud of the way you look, you’ll feel more confident without your clothes on and less self-conscious about getting naked and intimate with your partner.
Try: Pilates. Not only does this type of body conditioning encourage long and lean muscles for an overall sleek look, it also focuses on the strengthening of your pelvic floor muscles. Stronger pelvic floor muscles contribute to improved sexual sensation and a stronger orgasm.
For most of us, anything that gets us off the couch and gets our hearts pumping for 30 minutes a day will prove beneficial. Moreover, exercise is something couples can endeavour to do together, whether discovering a new activity or making a commitment to get healthy as a team. Bonding and spending time together will help strengthen your relationship overall in addition to helping increase your sexual desire.
However, there is such a thing as too much exercise. ''Too much weight loss and high levels of activity can actually decrease testosterone levels and have the opposite effect of optimal levels of exercise. And, of course, injury can result, as well,'' says Young. So take care to not overdo it.