The science connecting exercise to sexual libido is limited and often derived from either low-powered laboratory studies involving mostly women or unscientific descriptive surveys conducted by exercise magazines and sporting-goods companies. Nevertheless, there are some general trends that support the idea that exercise can boost libido and sexual health in both men and women.
One-time acute exercise sessions seem to boost sexual arousal via activation of the sympathetic nervous system, but it’s unclear whether this finding holds in habitual exercisers.
Notably, chronic training yields lower overall sympathetic autonomic neural tone and lower sexual drive. In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers found that exposure to increased levels of endurance training on a regular basis (eg, marathon training) was significantly correlated with lower libido scores in men. Based on their findings, the investigators recommended that physicians who treat men for sexual disorders or counsel couples on infertility assess the degree of endurance exercise training in men as a possible contributory factor to decreased libido.
Let’s look at possible exercises that might boost libido and sexual health.
- Strength training: Strength training involves the use of resistance, or weights, to make muscles stronger. Some experts believe that strength training boosts libido a bit more than cardio exercises—such as such as working the elliptical trainer or treadmill—do. This phenomenon could be because strength training is better at relieving stress than cardio is.
- Kegels: Some sources suggest that Kegel exercises, which help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, may help boost libido in both men and women. Typically, these exercises are used help alleviate problems with urine leakage or bowel control. But in women, Kegels might strengthen vaginal muscles for a more powerful orgasm. In men, these exercises could help delay ejaculation.
- Yoga: Practitioners of Ayurvedic yoga have long claimed that the practice helps with a variety of sexual disorders. Researchers who conducted a low-power study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that yoga helped with premature ejaculation, and was recommended as a safe and effective nonpharmacological option. In another low-power study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, yoga improved all domains of sexual function in women, including desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain. And these improvements were much more pronounced in older women (aged ≥ 45 years) vs younger women.
- Walking: Just 30 minutes of walking a day may decrease the risk of erectile dysfunction in men by up to 41%, according to a Harvard study. A separate trial indicated that such moderate exercise may also help to prevent erectile dysfunction in middle-aged, obese men.
- Swimming: Similar to walking, swimming for just 30 minutes three times weekly might boost sex drive, according to another Harvard study. And swimming can result in weight loss, which also improves sexual endurance.
On a final note, it’s unclear exactly how much exercise per week is truly needed to boost libido. Some research examining sexual function in men supports the notion that 2 hours of strenuous exercise, like running or swimming, may help. Alternatively, 3.5 hours of moderate exercise or 6 hours of light exercise may do the trick.