Miniguide

Staying Sexually Fit

Whether you’re a man or a woman, your sexual health and your overall health are intimately connected to each other in more ways than one. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for example, found that erectile dysfunction is often an early indicator of poor cardiovascular health. Researchers followed more than 2,300 men for an average of four years and found that men with ED had a 58 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease. Another study showed that men who reported having three or more orgasms per week experienced 50 percent fewer heart attacks and strokes as compared with those who had less frequent orgasms.

Clearly, you need to be healthy to have a good sex life—and you need a good sex life to be healthy! Diet, exercise, stress management and nutrition all play a role in healthy sexual function. Here’s how to cover your bases and attain sexual fitness.

Table of Contents

Why good health matters

From temporary ankle sprains to lifelong high blood pressure to seasonal hay fever allergies to insulin-dependent diabetes, many of us suffer from health issues that require immediate to long-term treatment and care. It is important to realize that both the conditions and treatment may have some impact on your level of desire and sexual function. Even something as simple as going on the pill can wreak havoc on your libido. But regardless of what particular problems you may be suffering from, you can still find ways to incorporate sexual and emotional intimacy into your life.

Get moving to get busy

Regular aerobic workouts help to keep the blood flowing and the arteries producing nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is the life blood of sexual arousal. Men who don't exercise are much more likely to experience bouts of erectile disorder than those who do; women who don't exercise are also more likely to experience arousal issues. Not only is overall blood flow heightened during aerobic exercise, but feel-good endorphins (natural opiates) that contribute to relaxation and sexual arousal are also released. Exercise also plays a major role in generating positive self-esteem, which is perhaps the most powerful sexual enhancer.

The better sex diet

A poor diet is a major contributor to heart disease, high cholesterol, arterial plaque and high blood pressure, among other conditions, all of which inhibit blood flow to the genitals and impact both desire and arousal. So what's key to the "desire diet"? Eat for the heart, and you're eating for desire. One of the keys to a healthy diet is the idea of nutrient density. In short, when the ratio of nutrients to calories in a food is high—as is the case with most vegetables—fat burns off and health is maximized. Hence, the more nutrient-dense foods you consume, the more you will be satisfied with fewer calories, and the less you will crave more high-calorie foods.

How stress and sleep affect libido

All stressed up with nowhere to go? Stress can take a major toll on your sex life. For men, work-related stress is particularly likely to inhibit desire, while women are often more susceptible to stressors that originate at home. Obviously, our sex lives themselves can be a source of stress and anxiety, all of which can create a vicious, destructive cycle. To have a healthy sex life, you have to be in the sort of relationship that supports having a healthy sex life. Communication, positive sentiment and mutual support are all part of the foundation of a healthy sex life. What happens outside the bedroom affects what happens inside the bedroom, but that doesn't mean you have to let outside stressors put a damper on intimacy. And don’t forget about sufficient shuteye: Sleep is as vital to our physical well-being as food and water, and even a single restless night will find its expression in higher levels of stress and lower levels of arousal. Conversely, those who are well rested are more able to have better sex.

Best supplements for your sex life

L-arginine, an amino acid, is a building block of protein and converts to nitric oxide, which, as we discussed earlier, is vital to sexual arousal. Pycnogenol is a combination of many antioxidants extracted from the bark of a pine tree and is known to protect the heart, fight those nasty free radicals and increase sexual arousal. Omega-3s, which are found in certain fish oils, reduce plaque that builds up in arterial walls and impairs blood flow, hence increasing levels of sexual arousal and response. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidant supplements that protect against free radicals and reduce fatty deposits in the blood. Most of these vitamins and minerals can be found in a quality multivitamin or simply by eating nutritiously.

Why you should just say “no”

We all know that tobacco contributes to lung and heart disease, but many people don't realize that it seriously affects sexual health as well. Smoking damages the arteries affecting blood flow to the genitals, and it leads to a loss of desire and arousal in both men and women. In terms of alcohol consumption, most of us know that having a drink or two before sex may help us relax and ease our inhibitions. But high levels of consumption can also result in sexual dysfunction. From causing the loss of erections to preventing your ability to get or stay aroused, alcohol disables the natural sexual response of the autonomic nervous system. Other chemical substances, like marijuana and cocaine, also have known links to low sex drive and sexual dysfunction.

How your age plays a role

As we age, both men and women may find themselves taking longer to become sexually aroused or even losing interest in sex altogether. In men, waning testosterone levels can make a guy moody, irritable and depressed. Decreased testosterone also places men at a greater risk for heart disease, as well as making them more prone to injury due to decreasing bone density. For women, changes in sexuality associated with menopause may affect lubrication, arousal, orgasm and overall sex drive. But without a doubt, one of the more pronounced symptoms related to menopause (as well as its early onset during perimenopause) is reduced libido. But even so the capacity to have satisfying sexual relationships does not disappear with age. We remain sexual throughout our lives, and many couples find that sex becomes more intense and intimate as they age. It's not as simple as less hormones equals less sex. It's all about lifestyle: exercise, diet, sleep and a healthy engagement with life.

Your sexual fitness scorecard

Keeping the categories we’ve just discussed in mind, answer the following questions about your health. The answers can help you determine which areas of your life need work

Now that you’ve gotten a bead on your health, start keeping a daily journal to track how your health affects your sex life. As you go through your day, think about how each daily activity affects your sexual health and whether it fundamentally helps you or hurts you. Take notes as you go along.

For example:

Once you've gone through your day, take a good look at your list and flesh it out. Are there more hurts than helps? What else could you do that would help? Are there behaviors that could be altered to move them from the hurt to the help category? The insight you’ll gain through this process can help give you the motivation you need to make smart choices for your health and for your sex life.

  • Do you have a temporary, recurring, or long-term medical condition that directly impacts your general sense of well-being? Have you had one in the past?
  • Have you found that during acute periods of affliction your sex life has been affected either by the condition itself or by the medication(s) you take for it?
  • How much of this impact is caused by negative emotions surrounding the health condition?
  • Are you currently taking any medication? If so, are you aware of any possible sexual side effects?
  • Have you talked to your doctor about how to manage them, or asked if other alternatives are available?
  • Have you talked to your partner and explained how your condition or treatment is making you feel?
  • Is exercise a regular part of your lifestyle?
  • Think back on various times in your life when you exercised more or less. Do you see any relation to periods of high and low desire?
  • When you exercise more, does it make you feel more sexually confident and desirable?
  • If you don’t have time to get to the gym, what other ways can you make exercise part of your daily routine?
  • Do you make an effort to eat nutritionally balanced meals?
  • Do you avoid junk food, saturated fats, and foods high in processed sugar, that is, empty calories?
  • Do you consider yourself overweight?
  • Do your eating habits leave you energized or lethargic?
  • Do you turn to food for comfort or as a response to anxiety?
  • Do you often snack between meals?
  • Are you relatively happy with your body and fitness level?
  • Do you feel as if you’re living with chronic stress?
  • Can you remember periods of your life when you weren’t feeling stressed? What was different about your life then?
  • Can you identify the various sources of stress in your life?
  • Have you attempted methods of stress reduction, such as yoga or exercise, or meditation?
  • Do you overeat or use chemical assistance (alcohol, cigarettes, prescribed or -non--prescribed drugs) to abate stress?
  • Does stress diminish your sex drive and/or interfere with your ability to remain aroused or focused during sexual interactions?
  • Does sexual release help you relax?
  • How much uninterrupted sleep do you get each night on average?
  • Do you know how much sleep your body needs to feel well rested and regenerated, keeping in mind that different people have different sleep needs?
  • How many nights per week do you suffer from insomnia?
  • By the time you go to bed, are you generally too tired for sex?
  • Does sex or masturbation help you sleep?
  • If your partner is already sleeping, does that make it easier or harder for you to fall asleep?
  • Do you take any form of medication or pill to help you sleep? If so, how dependent are you on this source?
  • If you’re unable to sleep because of racing thoughts, have you tried alternatives such as yoga, deep relaxation techniques, or writing in a journal to help clear your mind of the thoughts that keep you awake?
  • Are there any other factors that might be affecting your sleep, such as the adrenal fatigue related to menopause?
  • Do you make an effort to eat balanced meals and meet daily -recommended nutritional requirements?
  • Do you take a multivitamin or other supplements?
  • Do you have any symptoms, such as a tendency to easily bruise, bleeding gums, dry hair, or brittle nails, that might indicate a nutritional deficiency?
  • Do you notice a difference in the way you feel emotionally, physically, and sexually when you are eating for health rather than simply to maintain a desired weight?
  • Do you smoke cigarettes? If so, how frequently, and for how long have you been smoking?
  • Have you noticed a corresponding increase or decrease in desire and function when you’ve abstained or cut down on this habit?
  • Does your partner smoke?
  • Do you use alcohol or other substances to help you relax or loosen up? Do you rely on it to have sex?
  • Has alcohol or other drug use ever impaired your sexual function or contributed to negative sexual experiences?
  • Has your sexual response changed with age? Do you find it takes longer for you to get aroused or reach orgasm? Are you less physically responsive?
  • Has your level of sexual desire changed with age? Do you find you are less interested in sex in general than when you were younger?
  • How do other physical aspects of the aging process, such as reduced physical strength and stamina or visible signs of aging, impact your sexual confidence and interest in sex?
  • If you’ve gone through menopause, have you taken either prescription or holistic supplements to offset the hormonal shifts of aging? How did they impact your sexual function and level of desire and arousal? If you’re a man, have you had your testosterone levels checked?

Now that you’ve gotten a bead on your health, start keeping a daily journal to track how your health affects your sex life. As you go through your day, think about how each daily activity affects your sexual health and whether it fundamentally helps you or hurts you. Take notes as you go along.

For example:

  • Walked halfway to work before getting on the subway and walked all the way home. (Helped)
  • Brought a healthy lunch instead of going to the cafeteria. (Helped)
  • Skipped afternoon cigarette break. (Helped)
  • Grabbed a handful of candy sitting by the copy machine. (Hurt)
  • Drank too much coffee. (Hurt)
  • Canceled a squeezed-in social obligation to make her day less hectic. (Helped)
  • Shut off computer and went to sleep at a reasonable hour, ignoring work e-mails that could wait until the next day, and slept for eight blessed hours. (Helped)

Once you've gone through your day, take a good look at your list and flesh it out. Are there more hurts than helps? What else could you do that would help? Are there behaviors that could be altered to move them from the hurt to the help category? The insight you’ll gain through this process can help give you the motivation you need to make smart choices for your health and for your sex life.