Andrew Siegel MD 12/31/16
(Thank you, Pixabay, for image above)
It is fundamental to understand that your genitals are not separate and independent entities, but part and parcel of your body as a whole. If your health is compromised by illness or poor lifestyle, you should not expect your penis or vagina to function any better than rest of your body, but in parallel with your general health. If you are overweight, “malnourished” on the basis of a poor diet, do not challenge your body with regular exercise, use tobacco, consume too much alcohol, are over-stressed, sleep deprived, etc., your sexual function will likely suffer in concordance with your general health. The bottom line is that general health drives genital health and that healthy sexual functioning is an excellent marker of general health.
Sex is a healthy and natural part of life. A healthy sexual relationship is an important part of an overall healthy relationship, “cementing” the bond between those in the relationship.
Whether male or female, the concept of “sexual fitness” has recently come into vogue. The idea is that sexual health is related to overall health and that optimal functioning in the bedroom can only be achieved with an healthy state of mind and body and that the root cause of declining sexual performance is when general health is compromised.
Blood flow is our lifeline and defines our existence. The key to life is the unimpeded flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to every cell and tissue in the body to maintain proper function. Cardiovascular health is thus imperative for general and sexual health and when blood flow is jeopardized, both general health and sexual function will suffer.
Cardiovascular fitness is based upon maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a nutrient-rich diet (lean proteins, abundant fruit, vegetables, legumes and avoidance of nutrient-poor processed foods, excessive sugar and refined foods, etc.), daily activity and exercise (including aerobic, resistance, core and pelvic floor), avoiding excessive stress, getting sufficient sleep and avoidance of toxins including tobacco and excessive alcohol. Negative behaviors pursued on a chronic basis can sap one’s health and vitality that is critical to sexuality.
Our human ability to perform physically—in any domain—declines as we age, explaining why most professional athletes are in their twenties or thirties. Sexual function is no exception, with sexual response generally declining gradually over time, most often predicated upon impaired blood flow and altered function of the cells and tissues that comprise the genitals.
One option is to wait for your sex life to go south and then be “reactive,” incorporating healthy lifestyle measures in an effort to reverse the damage. A better approach is to be “proactive” with attention to the following ten recommendations.
10 Ways To Maintain Sexual Fitness
- Maintain a Healthy Weight This will help prevent fatty deposits that clog up your blood vessels, including the arterial supply to the penis and vulva/vagina.
- Eat Healthy The bottom line is that you want your body running on premium fuel. Nutritionally wholesome, natural foods will help prevent the build-up of harmful fatty deposits that compromise genital blood flow. Poor dietary choices with calorie-laden, nutritionally-empty selections (e.g., fast, processed, or refined foods) puts you on the fast tract to clogged arteries that can make your sexual function as small as your belly is big.
- Minimize Stress Stress causes the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline narrows blood vessels, which has a negative effect on sexual response. Excessive cortisol secretion drives appetite and causes the accumulation of the bad belly fat (as opposed to fat under the skin).
- Eliminate Tobacco Tobacco contains nicotine and a cocktail of toxins that impairs blood flow and decreases the supply of oxygen, as well as promotes inflammation, compromising every organ in your body, including those vital for sexual function.
- Alcohol in Moderation In small amounts, alcohol can alleviate anxiety and act as a vasodilator (increasing blood flow), but in large amounts it can be a major risk factor for sexual dysfunction. Everything in moderation!
- Sleep Tight Sleeping has a critical restorative function. During this important downtime there is an increased rate of tissue growth and a decreased rate of tissue breakdown, vital for maintaining the integrity of our cells and tissues. Sleep deprivation causes a disruption in endocrine, metabolic, and immune function, resulting in increased appetite, increased cortisol, and higher amounts of sugar in the bloodstream. If you are exhausted, your genitals will be equally weary.
- Exercise Exercise has a robust effect on sexual function through stress busting, mood improvement, fatigue reduction, increase of energy and better quality sleep. It reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, osteoporosis, chronic medical problems, and physical disability. It improves muscular strength and tone, reduces body fat and helps weight control. It makes your heart a better and stronger pump, your blood vessels more elastic, and your muscles better able to use oxygen. Exercises that work out the muscles involved in sex—the core muscles, the external rotators of the hip, and the all-important pelvic floor muscles—will improve bedroom performance.
- Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises The pelvic floor muscles play a vital role with respect to all aspects of sexual function, from arousal to climax. Numerous scientific studies have documented the benefits of pelvic exercises (Kegels) in improving sexual function.
- Stay Sexually Active Keep your genitals fit by using them on a regular basis for the purpose they were designed for. In other words, stay sexually active as nature intended! Sexual activity is vital for maintaining the ability to have ongoing satisfactory sexual intercourse. Regular sexual activity increases pelvic and genital blood flow and optimizes tissue health and elasticity, while orgasms tone and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. “Disuse atrophy” is a condition when the genitals adapt to not being used, with tissue wasting, genital shrinkage and weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. Use it or lose it!
- Maintain a Healthy Relationship. It takes two to tango, so relationship harmony plays strongly into healthy sexual functioning just as discord and interpersonal issues profoundly contribute to sexual dysfunction.
Note that sexual intercourse in and of itself is a great form of general exercise because of the kinetics involved and the demands on the cardiovascular system, core, pelvic floor and other skeletal muscles. Of the “10 ways to maintain sexual fitness,” staying sexually active covers 6 of them (maintaining a healthy relationship, staying sexually active, pelvic floor exercises, general exercise, sleeping tight and minimizing stress).
Bottom Line: The “Golden Rule”: Treat your genitals kindly (in terms of a healthy lifestyle) and the favor will be returned; treat your genitals poorly and they will rebel. The proactive approach will keep you functioning smoothly for many years. General health and fitness will foster sexual health and fitness, and staying sexually active is a vital means of maintaining general health and fitness.
Wishing you the best of health,
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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a practicing physician and urological surgeon board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. Dr. Siegel serves as Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community that is in such dire need of bridging.
Author of MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health http://www.MalePelvicFitness.com
Author of THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health http://www.TheKegelFix.com
Tags: Andrew Siegel MD, exercise, health, healthy eating, healthy weight, maintain healthy relationships, moderation, pelvic floor exercises, sexual fitness, sleep, staying sexually active, stress management, tobacco elimination