Men who perform gruelling workouts have lower libidos than those who do lighter exercise, a new study claims.
For years, scientists have debated whether or not exercise affects sexual desire and human reproduction.
But this is one of the first studies to scientifically examine the relationship between men’s workouts and their sex lives, because past studies have focused on women.
Men who perform gruelling workouts have lower sex drives than men who do light workouts, a new study claims
Past research has found that many female athletes, such as marathon runners, develop menstrual dysfunction – abnormal uterine bleeding – from their intense training.
Caused by hormonal imbalances, these dysfunctions are rare and are usually resolved after the athlete lightens her training load.
Meanwhile, contradictory research has been published over the years regarding heavy exercise and its impact on men’s libidos and fertility.
There have been suggestions in the past that moderate amounts of physical activity increase the production of the hormone testosterone, which in theory should incease sex drive.
But other studies have concluded that long and gruelling training sessions may actually blunt the testosterone levels in a man’s bloodstream both immediately and over the long term.
However, those studies examined only hormone changes related to exercise, and not differences in sexual emotions and behaviour, which are tougher to quantify.
The recent study, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, decided to ask active men about their sex lives.
Researchers developed a questionnaire that queried how much the men thought about and engaged in sex. A separate questionnaire asked about exercise habits, such as how often and intensely the men worked out each week.
A final set of questions asked about general health and medical histories.
Close to 1,100 physically active adult men completed all of the questions. Most were experienced athletes who had participated for years in training and competitions.
Based on responses, the researchers divided the men into groups based on the extent and intensity of their workouts. They had groups whose weekly exercise was short, moderately lengthy or quite prolonged, and also whose weekly exercise was light, moderate or extremely intense.
They also categorized the men according to their answers about their sex lives, creating groups with relatively high, moderate or low libidos.
Lastly, the scientists compared the men’s exercise habits to their reported interest and engagement in sex.
Results showed clear patterns. Men with moderate or light intensity/duration of workouts typically reported moderate or high libidos.
Conversely, the men with especially long or intense workouts reported lower libidos.
Lead author Dr Anthony Hackney, a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at the University of North Carolina, told The New York Times that the study couldn’t conclude if too much exercise actually causes low libido or only that the two are linked. And it did not examine why strenuous exercise might dampen libidos.
But Dr Hackney speculated that both physical fatigue and lower testosterone levels after exhausting exercise played a role.
For future research, the team would like to conduct experiments directly tracking exercise, hormone levels and libidos to learn more about their interactions.
Additionally, they’d like to see whether the intensity of the workouts or duration has the greater impact on male sex drive, as well as at what point exercise has an impact.
Dr Hackney suggests men test whether a change in training affects their sex drive, especially for those trying to conceive.
He said: ‘Fertility specialists will often ask a woman about whether and how much she exercises. Based on our data, we think they should also be asking the man.’