"Is there any relationship between sex drive and fitness level?"
This was one of the many questions asked by some of the 11 000 people who completed Health24's 2009 Great South African Sex Survey*.
The answer? Yes, there is. Not only does being fit give your libido a boost, it also improves the quality of what happens between the sheets.
For many, the brain is the most important sexual organ. You probably know already that exercise releases those feel-good hormones, endorphins. And the better you feel about yourself, the more inclined towards sex you will be.
Stress is a major mood-dampener. Regular exercise combats stress. The more you make exercise part of your life, the less stressed you will be, and the better your chances of having a good sex life become.
Speaking purely physically, being fit improves your libido, blood circulation and sexual functioning. So the more you exercise, the better you feel about yourself, the fitter you are and the more confident you will become with your body. All this bodes well for a very healthy sex life.
What the experts say
"Exercise and being fitter have an impact on your sex life for a number of reasons, physically and psychologically," says Dr Claire Rockliffe-Fidler, clinical psychologist and psychosexual therapist.
Apart from the benefits mentioned above, "exercise also increases blood flow and has a positive effect on muscle tension, which can greatly enhance one's sexual pleasure," Rockliffe-Fidler adds. "Fitter people tend to be slightly more supple and agile, which is also a bonus in the bedroom, as is the strength that comes from certain exercises."
Rockliffe-Fidler does, however, point out that being fitter and having better sex doesn't necessarily make for a better relationship. "But the overall knock-on effect of exercise and being fit will have an impact on your sex life."
Dr Ross Tucker, Health24's FitnessDoc notes that there isn't too much scientific proof to test this theory, but says that he wouldn't argue with it.
Fat affects fertility
And for those who are hoping for a fruitful sex life as well as a happy one, exercise has been shown to boost sperm quality. Conversely, men who are overweight or obese are likely to have decreased sperm quality. Obesity is also known to decrease women's fertility.
Other studies have also shown that exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise (such as walking, running or cycling), may play a part in preventing erectile dysfunction (ED). One study in particular showed that men who did the equivalent of three hours of running or more each week, or played five hours of singles tennis, reported a 30% lower risk of ED, compared with those who did little or no exercise.
Sex in your 80s
If the fact that exercise can improve your sex life isn't enough to convince you, research has also shown that healthy people can have reasonably satisfying sexual health well into their 80s.
The study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, showed that "sexual health is a harbinger of physical and mental health, and it plays an important role in the quality of life".
The researchers concluded that "if you're healthy, you can be sexually active. Don't assume that because you're older, your sex life has to be gone. If you're healthy and connected to someone, and you've had a pretty good sex life when you were younger, then you can have a pretty good sex life in old age".
* The Great SA Sex Survey launched in the middle of December 2008, and was live for five weeks. A total of 11 181 people completed it. The responses were weighted using the latest variables from Statistics SA’s General Household Survey, so the statistics you see here are representative of the habits and attitudes of 2,6 million urban metro adults, aged 20 years and older, who earn at least R2 500 a month.
(Health24, updated February 2009)
Sources: Health24, HealthDay News, Sapa, Reuters Health