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Get in Shape for Great Sex

The more fit you feel, the better you'll perform in bed

What's the secret to great sex? There are many, actually, but here's one you probably haven't heard much about: being in good physical shape.

Sex isn't strenuous, but it is exercise. Just as physical conditioning makes working out more enjoyable, getting in shape enhances lovemaking — especially for couples over 50. Try following these seven simple health tips to stay as fit as possible.

See also: Want to improve your health? Have sex!

6 ways to get in better shape for sex: Exercise

Simple lifestyle changes can improve your sexual stamina and performance. — Photo by Ken Wramton/Getty Images

1. Exercise daily

In a study of 1,709 men over 40, researchers found that the more the men exercised, the fewer sexual problems they reported. Why would that be? Because exercise increases blood flow to the genitals. It boosts testosterone, which fuels libido in both genders. It also elevates mood, reduces insomnia, helps control weight, promotes deep relaxation, minimizes menopausal discomforts and contributes to self-esteem. All six of those factors enhance libido and sexual satisfaction.

How you exercise doesn't matter. Do anything you enjoy: walking, swimming, yoga, dancing, golf, gardening — whatever. Just make sure you do it at least 30 minutes a day.

Regularity will benefit you more than intensity. It's better for health and sex to take a 45-minute walk every day, for example, than it is to hike five miles twice a month.

2. Eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidant nutrients, which promote cardiovascular and neurological health. By contrast, meat, cheese, fast food, junk food and whole-milk dairy products are not just low in antioxidants but high in cholesterol and saturated fat; those last two narrow the arteries, restricting essential blood flow to the genitals.

In a 2006 study, Italian researchers found that a Mediterranean diet — high in fruits and vegetables, low in meat — improves sexual function in men. Within two years after embracing a Mediterranean diet, one-third of the men in the study who had erectile dysfunction reported restored erections. A year later, the same research team reported that a Mediterranean diet improves women's sexual function as well. (Olives, anyone?)

So how do you max out the fruit and veggies? Include fruit with breakfast. Eat at least one salad a day. Snack on any fruit. And one night a week, cook a big pot of vegetable soup, then make it your dinner — and several lunches later in the week.

3. Maintain recommended weight

Many overweight adults enjoy sex, but the research is clear: Weight loss improves lovemaking.

Duke researchers surveyed the sexual impact of weight loss among 70 obese adults. Moderate loss — 10 to 30 pounds — boosted their libidos, sexual function and erotic satisfaction. Brown researchers surveyed 32 overweight women starting a weight-loss program. After losing an average of 56 pounds, most reported more sex and greater erotic fulfillment.

It's tough to lose weight, yes — but guess what helps? Daily exercise and a diet full of fruits and veggies. (Are you starting to see a pattern here?) Exercise burns calories, and plant foods are filling but low in fat. A reasonable goal is two pounds a month. That may sound unambitious, but by year's end there will be 24 pounds less of you in bed.

4. Manage stress

Stress can exacerbate an existing sex problem — or cause a new one from scratch. It not only reduces blood flow to the genitals, but also releases hormones that depress testosterone. Stress also paves the way for cardiovascular disease, and it raises your risk of both anxiety and depression.

How to keep these sex killers at bay? Proven stress relievers include exercise, pets, massage, laughter, meditation, hot baths, gardening, music (playing or listening) and time spent with loved ones. Ideally, combine them: Exercise with friends. Garden with your spouse. But don't try to make your cat crack a smile.

5. Quit smoking

Study after study has shown that sexual satisfaction declines as smoking increases. The mechanics responsible for that decrease are fairly straightforward: Smoking accelerates the growth of artery-narrowing deposits that reduce genital blood flow.

6. Limit alcohol

Alcohol is the leading drug cause of sexual impairment. As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, it "provokes the desire, but takes away the performance." Health authorities advise limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks a day (with "a drink" being defined as one 12-ounce beer, one shot of 80-proof spirits or a half-full wine glass — about five ounces).

7. Sleep soundly

Easy for me to prescribe, right? Yet sleep problems reduce sexual energy and depress both libido and testosterone. Half of all adults experience occasional insomnia, and millions suffer chronic sleep problems. Compounding matters, sleep problems multiply with age.

Sleep needs vary from one person to the next, but experts agree that most adults need at least seven hours' sleep each night to function optimally. Regular exercise improves sleep. So do quitting smoking and limiting your alcohol intake.

A healthy lifestyle can't guarantee great sex, of course, but it will definitely help. And there's no contesting that it boosts longevity — an equation I like to render as "More years on the planet = more fun in the sack."

Published June 2012

You may also like: Get the truth about sex and aging.

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