11 Jun How Exercise Impacts Sexual Health of Men
Reproductive and sexual health plays a key role in the well-being of Australian men.
Knowing more about your body, how it works, and the conditions that can affect you is important – this helps you make decisions about how you can look after your health and where to seek help when you need it.
WHAT IMPACTS MALE SEXUAL HEALTH?
There are many things that can impact male sexual health and well-being. Sometimes men may be a bit reluctant to talk to a health care provider about reproductive and sexual health because it can be a bit sensitive. Rest assured, the difficulties you may be experiencing are more common than you think.
There are things you can do to look after yourself, but it is also important to seek help from your health and medical professionals early. Your health care team play an important role. The Spanner in the Works? resource gives you a guide of the different things to keep an eye on at different ages and stages in life and who’s out there to help.
Often, men can be shocked to be told that they are the reason why they and their partner are having problems conceiving. But, in fact, about one in 20 men in Australia are infertile. Male infertility can have many causes, but problems with the number or quality of sperm is the most common. Sometimes treatment can restore natural fertility, but often doctors cannot find a reason for sperm not being made properly. This can make coping with male infertility difficult. Fertility specialists can treat some male infertility problems using assisted reproductive treatment. For men without sperm, couples may consider donor sperm, adoption, or foster parenting.
Most common in older men, about one in seven Australian men over 40 years of age have problems with their prostate. The most common prostate disease is a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). While not usually life-threatening, for some men BPH can have a major effect on quality of life because of problems with urination. However, not all urination problems are caused by the prostate, so it is important to see your doctor to find the cause. Medicines, and sometimes surgery, can help improve the symptoms of prostate disease.
Sexual problems in men are more common than you might think. About one in five Australian men over the age of 40 have problems getting or keeping an erection (erectile dysfunction or impotence). In some cases, erectile dysfunction is a sign of a serious health problem such as diabetes or heart disease. There are many treatments for erectile dysfunction, including medicines, but talking to your partner and your doctor is the most important first step. Even if the cause of erectile dysfunction is a physical one, getting some counselling or emotional support is an important part of treatment.
Androgen (Testosterone) Deficiency
Lower energy levels, mood swings, bad temper (irritability), poor concentration, reduced muscle strength, or a lack of interest in sex can be signs of androgen deficiency (low testosterone levels). About one in 200 men in Australia have androgen deficiency, but not all are diagnosed. Androgen deficiency affects men of all ages and can be caused by a genetic or medical problem, or by damage to the testicles. In some men, testosterone levels fall with older age most often due to illness or weight gain. Androgen deficiency is diagnosed by a doctor such as your GP, or by another specialist (usually an endocrinologist).
THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE:
Medical research shows links between chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes and male reproductive and sexual health. In fact, erectile dysfunction can be an early warning sign for future heart disease and/or type 2 diabetes.
If you have erectile dysfunction, you have a similar risk of having a heart attack to someone with a family history of heart disease or a cigarette smoker, especially if you are young.
Erectile dysfunction and heart disease have some of the same causes and risk factors, including being physically inactive.
It’s a good reason to focus on exercise for its many benefits.
Some studies have shown a link between increasing levels of physical activity and lower rates of benign prostate enlargement (BPH) or irritating and painful urinary symptoms (LUTS, or lower urinary tract symptoms). Physical activity may help prevent these prostate problems.
It can also be good to check in on the health of your pelvic floor muscles. The Continence Foundation of Australia have some great resources specifically for males to understand the importance of the pelvic floor and some tips on how to get started with pelvic floor exercise.
If you are planning for a family, it is important to remember that the health of sperm at conception is affected by the three months prior to conception. If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to have low testosterone levels, experience erectile dysfunction, and are likely to be less fertile than someone within an average weight range.
Being overweight also increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you are about twice as likely to have erectile dysfunction as someone without diabetes.
If you are overweight, with or without diabetes, losing weight could help your reproductive health. However, not putting on weight in the first place is the best way to lower your chance of reproductive health problems.
Along with changes to your diet, physical activity is very important in either keeping a healthy weight or losing weight and maintaining or regaining reproductive and sexual health.
Can sex be used as a workout?
“If you’re doing it right”, is ultimately the joke answer to this question.
But let’s delve into it – can regular sex actually be considered exercise?
You’re out of breath (most of the time), sweaty and you feel like you’ve really just worked yourselves into the ground.
Unfortunately, just when you think you have gone twelve rounds and on top of the world, most research suggests sex isn’t actually burning ads many calories as we think.
A study has found a sex session that lasts an average of 25 minutes (including foreplay) burns an average of 101 calories in men and 69.1 calories in women. Another study shows that during intercourse a man’s heart rate rarely gets above 130 beats a minute and entersystolic blood pressure (the higher number, recorded when the heart is pumping blood) nearly always stays under 170. All in all, average sexual activity ranks as mild to moderate in terms of exercise intensity.
As for oxygen consumption, it comes in at about 3.5 METS (metabolic equivalents), which is about the same as doing the foxtrot, raking leaves, or playing ping pong. Sex burns about five calories a minute; that’s four more than a man uses watching TV, but it’s about the same as walking the course to play golf. If a man can walk up two or three flights of stairs without difficulty, he should be in shape for sex.
Sex is more than a workout!
While sex is probably not going to reach all our fitness goals, doesn’t mean there are no benefits.
While it is only moderate exercise, it’s still exercise and better than nothing. There are many benefits of sex, including decrease in anxiety and stress, heart health, healthier immune system and sleep levels.
CHECK OUT OUR MEN’S HEALTH EBOOK:
This latest eBook by Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has been designed to encourage Australian men to become more active for their physical and mental health. It also covers the benefits of exercise for a wide range of common conditions adult men may encounter.
SPEAK TO THE EXERCISE PROFESSIONALS:
It is important to find opportunities for physical activity every day in as many ways as you can. A variety of exercises including resistance/strength training and cardiovascular/aerobic activity is important. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can help you get started and support you to stay on track.
It is particularly important to seek support of an exercise professional if you have chronic conditions. Appropriate exercise will play a big part in positively managing your health and well-being. Well managed chronic conditions can lead to improved sexual function!
Written by Vanessa Jones, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Health Promotion Manager at Healthy Male (Andrology Australia)