According to a new study, published by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, men who exercise strenuously may have a lower libido than those whose workouts are lighter.
For years, the correlation between exercise and sex and reproduction has been studied, but many of the past studies focused on women.
Research has found that rigorous training typical to that of female professional athletes and marathon runners can result in menstrual dysfunctions thanks to hormonal imbalances caused by physical stress. These imbalances affect a woman’s sexual desire and her fertility. The good news for the female marathon junkies is that such dysfunctions are rare and usually subside if the athlete lessens her training load. But back to the gents: until very recently, less was known about the effects of heavy exercise on a man’s libido and fertility.
Contradictory studies suggest that physical activity both increases and decreases the levels of testosterone. But preexisting studies only examined the hormonal changes related to exercise, which are easy to measure in comparison to differenced in sexual emotions and behaviour, which are more difficult to quantify.
In a departure to the studies that came before it, the new study – led by researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill – asked men about their sex lives via a carefully developed questionnaire that was based on earlier psychological research into men’s sexual behaviour. A second questionnaire asked detailed questions about exercise habits. Researchers wanted to know how often men both thought about and engaged in sex, and how often and intensely they worked out each week.A final set of questions asked about general health and medical histories.
All 1,1000 participants were sourced from running, cycling and triathlon training groups, university athletic departments and publications targeted at endurance athletes. Most of these men were experienced athletes who had years of experience in training and competition.
Men were placed into groups that reflected the extent and intensity of their workouts, based on their responses.
This resulted in the creation of a group whose weekly exercise was short, moderately lengthy or quite prolonged, and another whose weekly exercise was light, moderate or extremely intense. Men were also categorized by their responses to answers about their sex lives, resulting in groups with relatively high, moderate or low libidos. The men’s exercise habits were then compared to their reported interest and engagement in sex.
As it turns out, all that hard iron-pumping may make your muscles bulge, the same won’t always be said for your pants; the men whose exercise routines were moderate or light in intensity or duration were far more likely to report moderate or high libidos.
This was the case even when the researchers accounted for old age.
In effect, strenuous exercise “was associated with lower libido,” says Anthony Hackney, a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina who led the study. While the study doesn’t explicitly reveal that too much exercise results in a lower libido (rather, merely suggests a link), Dr. Hackney suggests that both physical fatigue and lower testosterone levels after exhausting exercise could be to blame.
Of course, the study isn’t without its limitations (least of which being the possibility of men to lie about their sex lives) and it doesn’t examine why strenuous exercise might weaken libidos.
Dr. Hackney and his team hope to soon conduct research that directly tracks exercise, hormone levels and libidos for further insight about their interactions. They also hope to discover more about whether the intensity or duration of the workouts has the greater impact on sex drive in males, and at what point pumping that iron may come at a cost to your sex life (or lack thereof).