Last week we talked about how cardio can help combat those winter blues. So, by now, most of us are aware that exercise can have a dramatic anti-depressive effect on the mind. It blunts the brain’s response to physical and emotional stress and boosts the neurotransmitters associated with mood and happiness. But that’s not the only mood based benefit of exercise. It also activates the pleasure centre of the brain, with some of the same responses that occur when we…well, orgasm. Blushing aside, this second profile on the benefits of cardiovascular exercise is all about how it can supercharge your love life.
Let’s make something clear from the outset. When I talk about love life, I’m not just referring to what happens in the bedroom. I’m also talking about how we feel and experience loving relationships. Cardio works on the physical body, sets a healthy stage for hormone balance, boosts mood and helps alleviate stress; it helps us stay levelheaded, grounded, and influences how we react to and interpret our experiences. All of these things have an effect on the way we love and make love.
Let’s talk about the physiological stuff first.
There are some obvious benefits of exercise in relation to sexual satisfaction like increased stamina, core strength and coordination. But there is also a proven, hormonal link between body composition and strength of libido. Studies examining cardiovascular exercise and subsequent changes in body composition have shown that a decrease in abdominal fat in men led to an increase in testosterone, improved blood flow to sexual organs and increased frequency of erections (as opposed to oestrogen, which is produced by fat cells and is a potent inhibitor of testosterone — drop that beer gentlemen). It also led to increased arousal and perceived sexual desire, and subjects reported having a more fulfilling sexual life.
Testosterone is also one of the most important hormones for female libido, alongside healthy oestrogen and progesterone balance. Oestrogen is absolutely crucial for healthy sexual function in women, but it is also a testosterone agonist, so there is fine balance between having enough and having too much. Oestrogen dominance is one of the main culprits in a lack of sex drive in women. This can also be brought on by insulin resistance, increased body fat, inflammation and chronic stress. Regular cardiovascular exercise (which is deemed as 150 minutes per week) has been shown to positively influence oestrogen levels, not to mention it’s normalising effect on blood sugar and body fat. Like in men, cardio has also been shown to increase blood flow to female sexual organs, and results in greater arousal and sexual response. Studies have even gone one step further and revealed that women who partake in frequent cardiovascular exercise are able to experience stronger, more frequent orgasms.
And there’s more.
Exercise has a potent effect on our brain chemistry and the neurotransmitters involved in mood, desire, reward and satisfaction. Dopamine, which is the reward or pleasure chemical that’s released with orgasm, is also brought on by intense cardio. But more importantly, regular bouts of intense exercise will actually up regulate dopamine receptors in the brain, which is one of the main reasons why researchers believe exercise strengthens sexual response. These same chemicals in the brain help combat stress, anxiety and depression — all of which are major psychological stressors that can contribute to a low libido.
This brings us to the emotional stuff.
There is one, major, incredibly influential emotional factor that impacts not only your sexual desire, but also your ability to connect with your partner and your overall sexual satisfaction — and that is self-confidence. Confidence in ourself, confidence in our body, and confidence in our abilities are hugely important to the way we show up in our intimate relationships. Yes, exercise can change your body shape. But more importantly, it can help you appreciate yourself and what you can achieve with your body — it pushes you outside of your comfort zone to do things you perhaps didn’t think you could do, and it allows you to enjoy the body that you have rather than wishing you had something else. Having a stronger sense of confidence can help create the space for physical intimacy, which allows us to be better partners (not to mention more grounded and less stressed, which definitely impacts our relationships). In short, exercise is one of the fastest ways to improve self-love and self-confidence, and when you can step into your confidence and get to a place where you feel comfortable in your skin, your libido will do some pretty amazing things!