The Motivation You Need to Exercise Starts in the Bedroom
Sticking to an exercise routine can be easier said than done. But it's one of the most important things we can do in our lives, along with getting proper nutrition, sleeping enough and constantly learning new things.
Physical therapists, trainers and competent physicians often recite the mantra, "Movement is medicine," and that remains true when it comes to improving your sexual health.
Being fit, or at least fit-ish, can clearly improve aspects of your sex life, such as stamina and flexibility. The latter one is especially important if you want to retain the ability to get into bendy shapes without cramping up. But there are numerous other less obvious benefits to keeping your heart, muscles and lungs going strong.
"The effects of exercise on your sex life include helping you last longer, building strength for positions and movements, increasing blood flow, and better body image—all of which have been shown to improve your sex life," said Jessica Chellsen, P.T., D.P.T., a pelvic floor physical therapist in San Luis Obispo, California, and the owner of Vibrant Coast Physical Therapy and Wellness.
Exercise and physical activity do not require lifting 500-pound weights and running five miles at 5 a.m. every day. And the motivation to exercise can come from many places.
Let's focus on one particular motivation: improving your sex life.
If being better in bed—even improving on your solo adventures—perks more than just your interest in exercise, here are some ways you can achieve that payoff.
Sex hormone function
"Exercise has the chance to impact many different body systems, and a few of them can have positive downstream effects on your sex life," said Mike Masi, D.P.T., a physical therapist and orthopedic specialist in Charlotte, North Carolina.
One of these systems is the endocrine system, which consists of the glands and organs that release hormones into the bloodstream. Masi explained regular exercise can potentially increase testosterone immediately and long term.
Testosterone plays a significant role in sexual function as a regulator of sexual desire. Low levels of the hormone can make it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection, reduce sex drive, and lead to mood and fatigue issues.
Regular exercise can combat these effects by boosting testosterone levels naturally.
The cardiovascular system—the heart and the vascular network that brings blood to and from target tissues—needs to be kept in top shape. After all, your heart and lungs are pretty crucial for survival. Beyond that, unimpeded and healthy blood flow is necessary for a robust and firm erection, a lubricated vagina, and a stimulated and responsive clitoris.
"Three of the six main physical causes for erectile dysfunction are direct cardiovascular dysfunction: heart disease, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure," Masi said.
The other three are high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, which can each be improved with cardiovascular training, he added.
Being in good shape wards off these particular causes of ED and more.
"Physical activity can improve circulation, which aids in erections in men," said Kandis Daroski, a physical therapist in Canfield, Ohio, with Hinge Health, a virtual clinic for joint and muscle pain. "And in women, it's influential in vaginal lubrication and clitoral sensation."
Muscles and strength
The musculoskeletal system, which consists of your muscles and bones, is one of the more apparent systems in your body that can be improved through exercise.
"Let's be real—sex is physical activity and often requires one or both partners to put in some work," Masi said. "If you don't want to be limited to mundane and unimaginative sex positions, you'll have to use your body, get creative and have fun."
On the flip side, a lack of strength and flexibility—even in body parts you might not consider—will impede being creative and enjoying sex.
"Put it this way, I've been injured before where I couldn't move and use my shoulder for a period of time, and that put a significant hamper on my sex life," he said.
What's more, if you want to optimize your orgasm, it's key to have strong and active muscles, especially your core, pelvic floor and other supporting musculature.
"An orgasm is a reflexive activation and relaxation of your pelvic floor," Chellsen said. "When you work on the mobility, strength and coordination of your pelvic floor, you are able to experience the full expression of an orgasm."
Connecting mind and body
During movement, your muscles communicate with the brain, Daroski said. When this is done repeatedly and intentionally, especially while targeting muscles that support sexual function, your mind-body connection is enhanced.
"This connection enhances your awareness of your body, which can deepen your sexual experience," she added.
Endorphins released through exercise lead to positive emotions such as joy, relaxation and excitement, which, as Daroski points out, can improve physical pleasure and satisfaction.
"It's been pretty well established at this point that exercise can manage your mental health and stress," Masi said.
That includes the ability to improve depression and self-esteem and reduce anxiety. In the bedroom, these are often considerable barriers to initiation and sometimes stymie the thought of sex altogether.
Exercise for better sex
You're motivated now, yes? Exercise can make you a better lover. The next step is choosing how to move your body.
Know this: An exercise routine is only going to work if you stick to it. So finding a way to be active that gets you excited and feels good will be more beneficial than trying the latest and "best" fitness routine you can't commit to.
That being said, some types of exercise can work a particular kind of magic in the bedroom.
Masi said lifting weights—free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells—has been shown to boost testosterone levels the most. Cardio, which gets your heart rate up for an extended period or in short high-intensity bursts, can increase your stamina and blood flow.
Strengthening the muscles directly involved with orgasm and sexual function should not be overlooked.
"As a pelvic health physical therapist, one of the most important things I do is educate people on the important roles of the pelvic floor muscles," Daroski said.
Among several other crucial roles, a healthy pelvic floor allows for sexual function and appreciation.
"Being able to contract and relax the pelvic floor helps make for pain-free vaginal penetration, optimizes the blood flow during sex to promote erections and orgasms, and also helps to increase vaginal lubrication in women," Daroski said.
Pelvic floor exercises are a recommended first-line approach for men with erectile dysfunction (ED) because they can help increase muscle mass and improve blood flow.
How to get started
Masi said to know where you're going, you need to know where you've been.
"If you're completely sedentary, then just five- to 10-minute walks every day could be the best way to get started," Masi said.
From there, you can progressively increase the total distance walked or your speed. Likewise, if you're already an avid runner, cyclist, swimmer or rower but don't participate in resistance training, then incorporating compound exercises may help.
Some easy exercises to implement into a new exercise routine include breathwork (sometimes referred to as an active form of meditation), hip-opening exercises and strengthening exercises, which incorporate your glutes and core.
"Breathwork is important because there is a direct relationship between your pelvic floor and your breath," Chellsen said. "Your pelvic floor relaxes every time you breathe in and when you breathe out, your pelvic floor contracts."
You can practice belly breathing in various positions, such as on your back, on all fours and sitting up, which can help with the mind-muscle connection with your pelvic floor, she said.
Examples of hip-opening exercises are yoga poses such as happy baby, pigeon pose and child's pose.
"When performing these exercises, try and relax your pelvic floor and focus on your breath," Chellsen said. "Strengthening exercises include bridges, supine marches or squats. These exercises strengthen your core and glutes, which help support your pelvic floor and also help with generalized strength for increased stamina."
Reaping the rewards
If you identify the type of movement you enjoy, you are more likely to build a better movement habit and reap the benefits of overall health and sexual satisfaction.
Don't forget that just as you are likely to include your partner in much of your sexual activity, you can do the same with exercise.
"Be courageous and try out some different classes or activities in your area. The confidence you gain by trying something new with your partner or on your own could be just what you need to improve your sexual confidence," Chellsen said.
After a bit of physical experimentation in and out of the bedroom, you're bound to find new and exciting ways to move your body and celebrate what it can do physically.
"Partaking of movement regularly can leave you with a sense of accomplishment and confidence that carries over into all aspects of your life, including during sex," Daroski said.