Is sex really exercise?

Last updated 13:13 10/12/2013

THE FACTS: Is frisky fun in the bedroom really an effective workout?

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Sex may be the more exciting exercise equivalent to pounding the pavement. And, when it comes to sex, we hardly need the extra motivation of exercise.

But, does it actually a provide a decent workout?

Studies have explored whether the rise in heart rate is more likely to make you go out while you're on top. It turns out the risk is considered remarkably slim and depends on how vigorously you go at it, how long you last and whether or not you're cheating (the anxiety associated with having an affair is thought to increase likelihood of a heart attack).

In fact, some studies suggest sex can reduce your risk of having a heart attack in the first place, while people with a healthy sex life are less likely to get sick in general.

Few studies, however, have examined how effective sex as exercise really is.

The average sex session lasts between three and seven minutes and the seven-minute workout, as we now know, can be as effective as endurance-based exercise, if we're working at a high intensity.

Unfortunately, it seems, most people's seven-minute sex sessions aren't reaching those high heights - at least in terms of improving fitness. One 2008 study found heart rate and blood pressure "increase just slightly" even at their peak during orgasm. Another study published earlier this year found that the average bout of sexercise burns a measly 21 calories.

The latest study, published in the October issue of the journal Plos One, has slightly more promising results for those hoping to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

The lead author, an exercise scientist from the University of Quebec, recruited 21 young heterosexual couples and hooked them up to sensors. First, they were made to jog at a "moderate intensity" for 30 minutes on the treadmill while researchers measured their energy expenditure.

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Then, with the "inobtrusive" armband sensors the couples were instructed to go home and over the course of a month, have sex at least once a week and fill in quetionaires assessing perceived energy expenditure, perception of effort, fatigue and pleasure.

The sex sessions lasted between 10 minutes and close to one hour and, after collating the data, researchers concluded that sex constitutes "moderate exercise" - the equivalent of walking up a hill for instance.

The men were found to burn more calories (four per minute versus three per minute for the women) and at times expended more energy than when they were jogging.

"Interestingly, the highest range value achieved by men for absolute energy expenditure can potentially be higher than that of the mean energy expenditure of the 30 min exercise session," the authors said. "Whereas this was not observed in women."

It might not be as effective an exercise in general, but as you'd expect, 98 per cent of the participants reported finding sex more pleasurable than jogging.

Plus, now there's more reason to just do it. The authors concluded: "These results suggest that sexual activity may potentially be considered, at times, as a significant exercise."

- Sydney Morning Herald


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