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Is Sex a Good Form of Exercise?

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There are hundreds of different activities that can help you lose weight and get fitter. But doesn’t the thought of sex as exercise sound more interesting than most?

It is certainly more enjoyable than some other physical activities – but is it an effective alternative to other types of aerobic activities? and can it help you lose weight? In this article we’ll look at the look and see how it shapes up as a fitness activity.

You will learn:

  • The health benefits of sex
  • Is sex really an exercise?

The health benefits of sex

Lovemaking is a natural and important activity that promotes and positively impacts mental and physical well-being. It’s an essential aspect of normal human function and helps us to maintain a good quality of life. According to researchers it is also one of the most regularly practiced activities throughout an individual’s life time [1].

Overall, men are more likely than women to be sexually active and report a good quality love life [2]. In The US, statistics suggest that by age 20, 77% of people have had intercourse and almost all have had it before marriage [3]. On average, Americans have sex 113 times per year – or 3 times per week.

So what are the health benefits?

According to the Caerphilly Cohort Study [4], risk of early death is 50% lower in groups with ‘high orgasmic frequency’ – classed as more than 100 per year, and risk of coronary events falls significantly when intercourse is performed twice or more per week.

Love making can also help to reduce symptoms of stress – a study published in Biological Psychology [5] found that those who participated in regular intercourse had a lower response to stressful events, and that doing it with a partner resulted in lower stress levels than masturbation did.

Looking at it from a different angle, studies have also found that those who are abstinent- such as priests and nuns [6] are much more likely to get cancers of the breast or reproductive organs.

Lastly, it may also reduce the chances of you getting the common cold. Research from Psychological Reports [7] found that in a group of 112 college students, those that participated in sexual encounters one or two times per week had much higher levels of IgA in their saliva – an important first line of defense against viruses and bacteria.


Sex-and-Calorie-Burning

Key Point: Sex has a number of health benefits – it can improve the quality of your life as well as your life span.


Sex as a physical activity

Unsurprisingly, it is difficult to monitor energy output during sex as you would do with exercise – sterile laboratories as well as all of monitors and computers must really kill the mood!

The most commonly used clinical measure of intensity for intercourse is the ‘metabolic equivalent of energy expenditure (MET)’. It is a simple and practical method of assessing so works well here.

1 MET is defined as the amount of oxygen consumed while sitting at rest and is equal to 3.5 ml of O2 per kg of body weight per min. Whilst that sounds complicated, all you need to know is that 1 MET is the equivalent of calories burned at rest, 2 METs uses twice as much energy than if you were sat down resting, 5 METs is 5 times as much and so on.

As per ACSM guidelines [8], moderate intensity is classed as 3-6 METs.

A study by the Department of Cardiology in China [9] researched METs and found that as a physical activity, intercourse ranged from 2-4 METs which equates to moderate activity of course. To give it some context – walking at 2mph comes out at around 2 METs and cycling at 10mph is 6 METs. Using this measurement system, it is about the equivalent of walking briskly. 

But as we’ll see, some studies have found that the intensity of intercourse can be even higher than a brisk walk…


Is sex an effective exercise?

It certainly is.

A study in journal PLOS ONE [1] used a portable armband sensor and measured energy expenditure in 21 couples. They reported that intensity of each session measured at 6.0 METs, which is at the high end of moderate intensity and the equivalent of cycling at 10mph.

The research revealed that men burned 4.2kcal per minute and women 3.1kcal. As the average time to ‘complete’ was 24.7 minutes, that equated to a total of 101kcal for men and 69.1kcal for women.

The results showed that during testing, heart rate and blood pressure increased, and that afterwards, 19% reported feeling highly fatigued, and 7% reported high energy expenditure. A small minority reported that sex felt more strenuous than a 30 minute treadmill exercise as well!

Another study [9] measured the physiological responses to sexual activity in 19 men and women. Firstly the volunteers underwent a treadmill test to find out their fitness levels, they were then asked to have spend time with their partner at home. The findings suggested that during intercourse, blood pressure increased to around 80% relative to treadmill exercise, and heart rate reached 72%. 

Interestingly, there was a clear relationship between how well the volunteers performed on the treadmill test and how long they lasted in the bedroom, suggesting the fitter you are, the better love life you’ll have.

The authors suggested that sex provides a modest physical stress compared to treadmill exercise for both men and women.


Best position for calorie burning?

The studies above used a variety of positions in order to look at the metabolic cost of physical activity – with most of them including the traditional ‘man on top’ and ‘woman on top’ as standard.

Its not surprising really that when men are on top they will burn more energy due to them controlling the pace and intensity, and when women on top they will burn more energy.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment though as there are hundreds of variations to try – a fun experiment for you to try. There are also a ton of online calculators where you can input your weight, position and time and get a calorie count too!


Sexercise

Key Point: Research shows that regular sex will provide similar exercise benefits to moderate exercise.


Summary – sex and exercise

Sexual activity is an enjoyable, moderate-intensity physical activity that contributes towards your daily energy expenditure. In reality, it shouldn’t replace other physical activities such as cardio, participating in weight lifting session and sports – but when combined they will help you form a great, healthy lifestyle.

There are a number of health benefits that you can derive from regular intercourse – these include reduced stress and anxiety, better quality of life, and maybe even longer lifespan too. Research als o shows that the fitter you are, the better you can perform in the bedroom.

When tested under research conditions, love making elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and perceived exertion to moderate levels, around the equivalent of cycling for 10mph or a slow jog – 6 METs. It is considered a significant part of daily physical activity.


References

  1. Frappier, J et al. Energy Expenditure during Sexual Activity in Young Healthy Couples. PLOS ONE. 2013; http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0079342
  2. Lindau, ST et al. Sex, health, and years of sexually active life gained due to good health: evidence from two US population based cross sectional surveys of ageing. BMJ. 2010; 340: c810
  3. Finer, LB et al. Trends in premarital sex in the united atates, 1954-2003. Public Health Rep. 2007; 122(1): 73-78
  4. Smith, DG et al. Sex and death: are they related? Findings from the Caerphilly Cohort StudyBMJ. 1997; 20-27; 315 (7123):1641-4.
  5. Brody, S. Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile–vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Biol Psych. 2006; 71(2): 214-222
  6. Butler SM et al. Trends in mortality in older women: findings from the nun study. J Gerontol Ser B. 1996; 51: 201-8
  7. Charnetski, CJ et al. Sexual frequency and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). Psychol Rep. 2004; 94(3 Pt 1): 839-44.
  8. Haskell WL, Lee IM, Pate RR, Powell KE, Blair SN et al. Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2007; 116: 1081-1093
  9. Palmeri, ST et al. Heart rate and blood pressure response in adult men and women during exercise and sexual activityAm J Cardiol. 2007; 100(12): 1795-801.
  10. Chen, X et al. Cardiovascular effects of sexual activity. Indian J Med Res. 2009; 130: 681-688