Sexual dysfunction is common among adults and takes a toll on the quality of life for both men and women. At least one form of sexual dysfunction affects as much as 40-50% of women, and among men, the probability of dysfunction increases with age rising from 10% at 40 up to 50% at 70. A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine finds these problems are less common among physically active adults engaging in cardiovascular training on a weekly basis.
Researchers from the University of California aimed to determine whether increased levels of exercise would be protective against sexual dysfunction (SD). More precisely, they were looking into cardiovascular activities like swimming, biking and running and the effect they have on erectile dysfunction in men and orgasm satisfaction and arousal in women.
To study this, researchers used data from an international online survey recruiting 3,906 men and 2,264 women who were active cyclists, runners, and swimmers. Participants gave detailed information on the time they spent doing these activities, average speed, and distance, as well as the number of days in a week they exercised. This was compared to information on their reported sexual activity.
The results showed a positive effect of physical activity for both men and women concerning SD levels. For example, men who cycle approximately 10 hours per week had 22% lower odds than those who cycled less than 2 hours in a week, and women reported less orgasm dissatisfaction and arousal difficulty. Women who took part in this study initially had lower scores of SD than the general population, which additionally supports the hypothesis that physical activity plays a role in lower levels of SD as this sample of women was more physically active than the average.
There are various explanations for these findings. Possible mechanisms include better blood supply of the penis and the clitoris, greater pelvic floor muscle strength or the fact that physical activity is associated with the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity, and these same conditions are associated with increased risk of erectile dysfunction. So in men, exercise may be improving sexual function by simply reducing risks of these medical conditions.
The authors explained the importance of these results: “Men and women at risk for sexual dysfunction regardless of physical activity level may benefit by exercising more rigorously.”
“In addition to encouraging sedentary populations to begin exercising as previous studies suggest, it also might prove useful to encourage active patients to exercise more rigorously to improve their sexual functioning”.
Future studies are encouraged to include less active reference groups, factors like depression and mood, menopausal status and hormone therapy, as well as known psychological benefits of exercise to shed more light on the relationship between physical activity and sexual dysfunction.
The study, “Exercise Improves Self-Reported Sexual Function Among Physically Active Adults”, was authored by Kirkpatrick B. Fergus, Thomas W. Gaither, Nima Baradaran, David V. Glidden, Andrew J. Cohen and Benjamin N. Breyer