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Sexual Health: One Good Reason to Exercise

Sexual Dysfunction

If your libido has been lacking lately, it might be time to hit the gym.

No, not to scope out the bodybuilders, but to get yourself into better physical shape. Exercise, no matter what type you prefer, not only helps improve your overall health, but it may also improve your sexual health.

That's because your health, cholesterol level and how well your body uses insulin, are all linked to your sexual health. Additionally, your weight may affect some aspects of your sexual health as well.

Let's start with metabolic syndrome. This condition is marked by high blood pressure, abdominal obesity (typically, more than 35 inches around the waist for women, 40 inches for men), insulin resistance high blood levels of insulin, low HDL "good" cholesterol and high triglycerides. If you have at least three of these markers, you may have metabolic syndrome.10a You also may have a significantly higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. And now we know that you also have a higher risk of sexual dysfunction.

In one study, researchers enrolled 100 premenopausal women with metabolic syndrome and assessed their sexual function with a commonly used test called the Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI). Compared to women without metabolic syndrome, those with the condition had a significantly lower FSFI score. While 77 percent of women without metabolic syndrome had "good" sexual function, just 55 percent of those with the condition did. In addition, about a third of women with metabolic syndrome had an "intermediate" function and nine percent had poor function compared to 21 percent and two percent respectively.

Women with diabetes are also more likely to have sexual problems, with one study finding that nearly 78 percent of the women had low libido compared to just 20 percent of women without diabetes. Numerous reasons could be behind the difference, including lack of lubrication, possibly from insufficient blood flow to the vaginal area.

Then there's obesity, which also increases the risk of hypertension, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as well as cardiovascular disease and numerous other medical conditions. One study found that sexual satisfaction was strongly linked with body mass index (BMI). Women already diagnosed with female sexual dysfunction who were overweight or obese had significantly lower FSFI scores in the areas of arousal, lubrication, orgasm and sexual satisfaction.

So, what are the best ways to reduce your risk of obesity, and therefore diabetes and metabolic syndrome-not to mention numerous other conditions? Exercise and diet!

In one study, 33 women with metabolic syndrome and sexual problems followed a Mediterranean-style diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and olive oil, with more fish than red meat. After two years, the women's blood glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels improved, as did their blood pressure. Most relevant to our focus: their FSFI scores also improved!

Although there haven't been any controlled studies evaluating the effects of exercise on sexual function as yet, we know it is one of the ways to improve the components of metabolic syndrome as well as help with weight loss and restoration of overall well-being.

Also, there's other benefits to exercise. For example, by getting your body in shape, you may feel better about yourself. And studies show that self-esteem and body image can be closely tied to a woman's sexual desire.

So get out there and walk! Take a pilates or yoga class, or hop on your bike! Take up tennis or swimming or Zumba, an aerobic workout based on Latin dance rhythms. Just get out there and move! The benefits to your heart and love life may surprise you!

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