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Lose weight by having sex with your partner

With more than half of the United States population on a diet, weight loss is clearly on our minds. But should you include sex in your weight management plan? We investigate.

sex and weight loss

Sex helps us burn calories. But the benefits don’t stop there.

A healthy weight is part and parcel of a healthy lifestyle. Keeping our pounds in check is good for our ticker, our bones, and our lungs. It might even keep cancer at bay, as we found out this week.

But a staggering 73.7 percent of men and 66.9 percent of women in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that 66 percent of us are currently on a diet.

Whether opting for a tried-and-tested Mediterranean diet or a relative newcomer, like intermittent fasting, as a nation we understand that our diet, our weight, and our health are intricately linked.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “physical activity is an important part of maintaining healthy weight, losing weight, and keeping extra weight off once it has been lost.”

The HSS recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, but less than 25 percent of adults manage to hit this target.

Where does sex fit into this?

Well, sex is good for our health, it burns calories, and it makes us happy. You are, of course, unlikely to burn as many calories between the sheets as during a heavy gym session, but exercise alone may not be the panacea for weight loss we give it credit for, according to a recent study.

So, get ready to look at the obvious and some of the more surprising reasons why sex should be firmly integrated into our plan to reach and maintain a healthy weight, regardless of whether you are a gym buff or not.

Sex is exercise

In 2013, Prof. Antony D. Karelis — along with colleagues from the Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada — studied exactly how many calories we burn when we get our groove on.

Prof. Karelis explains in his article in the journal PLOS ONE that only a handful of studies have attempted to shine the spotlight on the physiological effects during partnered sex with human subjects. All previous studies showed an increase in heart rate.

For his study, Prof. Karelis worked with 21 heterosexual couples, aged between 18 and 35.

The couples were asked to have sex once per week for a period of 4 weeks, while wearing an activity tracker that allowed the research team to calculate how much energy they spent each time.

A sexual encounter included foreplay, intercourse, and at least one orgasm by either partner, then “ended at the couple’s discretion,” as the authors explain.

Here is what the team found.

Men burned on average 101 calories and women 69 calories when they had sex. The average intensity was higher than walking but lower than jogging, Prof. Karelis explains, putting it firmly in the category of moderate-intensity exercise.

This means that each time we have sex, it counts toward our 150 minutes of weekly exercise recommended by the HSS.

If that’s not appealing enough, the data revealed more.

‘More pleasant’ than a gym workout

The range of calories burned during sex varied considerably. At the lower end, men burned 13 calories and women 11.6, while at the top of the range, men shifted 306 calories and women 164.

Let’s look at these numbers into the context of how long each sexual encounter lasted. While the average duration of foreplay, intercourse, and orgasm was 24.7 minutes, the actual time the couples spent having sex ranged from 12.5 to 36.9 minutes.

Whether the top calorie-burners had more vigorous sex or just took their sweet time isn’t clear from the data, but we can draw some conclusions. If we want to increase our calorie loss during sex, we can either get more actively involved, keep at it for longer, or a combination of both.

Prof. Karelis also compared sex with regular gym exercise. He found that men burned between 149 and 390 calories during a 30-minute, moderate-intensity session on the treadmill, while women burned between 120 and 381.

When asked to compare the two activites, all of the men and 95 percent of the women in the study said that sex was more pleasant than pounding the treadmill.

So, we are not only making considerable headway toward reaching our 150-minute weekly exercise goal when we have sex, we also stand to gain more pleasure than from a gym visit.

Exercise may not equal weight loss

While some may argue that a study on healthy, young individuals may not be representative of the general population, the participants included a wide spread of weight categories.

Body mass index (BMI) for men varied between 19.5 and 31, putting at least some of the men in the overweight and obese category. For women, the range was from 16.9 to 26.6, meaning some of the women were underweight and some were overweight.

The study doesn’t reveal anything about the participants’ weight during the 4 weeks they took part. But if you’re looking to shift some pounds, exercise alone may not be the answer to weight loss we once thought it was, as we reported last week.

Researchers from the University of Bangor in the United Kingdom found no discernible weight loss in women who had taken part in three sessions of circuit exercise training per week for either 4 or 8 weeks, despite burning around 3,400 calories in total during this time period.

On the contrary, the team identified changes in hormones that control appetite in overweight and obese study participants after exercise.

“[…] Someone undertaking more physical activity may experience increased appetite as a result,” senior study author Hans-Peter Kubis, Ph.D., explains.

Sex might fill a useful gap here because hormones released during our amorous experiences cause us to eat less.

Sex curbs food intake

The “love hormone” oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus in our brain as well as in our gastrointestinal tract, and it has been accredited with key functions in sex, empathy, relationship-building, childbirth, and breast-feeding.

Oxytocin levels shoot up when we have sex – specifically, when we experience orgasm. But that’s not all the love hormone can do.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Lawson — from the Neuroendocrine Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston — explains in an article in the December edition of Nature Reviews Endocrinology that “experiments in rodents, nonhuman primates and humans consistently show that oxytocin reduces caloric consumption.”

She adds that men ate fewer calories, particularly in the form of fat, after receiving 24 international units (IU) of oxytocin in a nasal spray in one study.

“The authors found that oxytocin reduced consumption of a postprandial snack, particularly chocolate cookies,” Dr. Lawson explains.

It’s important to note that oxytocin doesn’t stick around in our bodies for very long. Within 2–8 minutes of being released, half of hormone will be gone.

The after-effect of a single sexual encounter on our food intake will therefore only ever be transient. Still, every little helps, and a temporary curb on eating after sex is sure to contribute to overall weight loss.

Sex and weight management

Now that we’ve looked at the benefit of sex when it comes to burning calories and temporarily putting a halt on eating, how likely is it that we are going to lose weight by having sex?

That probably depends on how easy it is to incorporate sex into your personal schedule. Finding time to be romantic sounds easy, but the stark reality of busy lives make it less tenable for some.

However, it is worth reminding ourselves that sex has a plethora of health benefits, and, unlike a gym visit, you don’t have to stray far from your bedroom — or other location of personal preference — to make it happen.

So, if you are looking to shed a few pounds in the lead up to the peak holiday season, why not make the time to spend with your partner, enjoy sharing some intimate moments, and bask in the full effect that all that oxytocin and calorie loss will hopefully have on your scales.

You might find that your 2018 diet plan will easily accommodate sex as an indispensable component.

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Health benefits of sex

Type “sexual health” into a search engine, and it is likely that you will be bombarded with pages of articles covering anything and everything, from sexual norms and advice on relationships, birth control, and pregnancy, to information about STDs and how to avoid them. What is less often discussed, however, is the abundant physical and psychological health benefits of sex. We have put together a list of the top health benefits of sex, as backed up by science.

[man and woman in bed looking intimate]

Sex has numerous physical and psychological health benefits.

In exploring just how sex affects the mind and body, the list of potential benefits appears to be endless.

Aside from reproduction, pleasure, and intimacy, sex seems to have a positive impact on many life areas, including work, physical and cognitive performance, marriage, and happiness into our senior years. Sex may also have a positive effect on certain organs and conditions, as well as a preventive effect on some diseases.

For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Management found that maintaining a healthy sex life at home might boost job satisfaction and engagement at work.

Sex may also play a fundamental role in preserving a happy marriage, according to research published in Psychological Science. Partners are suggested to experience a sexual “afterglow” that lasts for up to 48 hours following sexual intercourse. This afterglow is associated with higher levels of long-term relationship satisfaction.

Sex is also considered a significant form of exercise. Sex burns around 85 calories, or 3.6 calories per minute, according to a study published in PLOS One.

These few examples are a drop in the ocean of the numerous health benefits of sexual activity and masturbation that are presented in studies from around the globe. Medical News Today provide the low-down on the top evidence-based health benefits of sex.

1) Improves immunity

Participating in sex one to two times per week appears to be the optimum frequency to boost the immune system, according to research published in Psychological Reports.

Scientists can test how tough our immune systems are by measuring levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA) in saliva and mucosal linings.

Study authors Carl Charnetski, from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, and his colleague Frank Brennan found that people who had sex once or twice per week had a 30 percent increase in IgA. However, the same results were not seen in individuals who had sex more or less frequently.

Clifford Lowell, an immunologist at the University of California-San Francisco, says that people who are sexually active are exposed to more infectious agents than individuals who are not sexually active. The immune system responds to these infectious agents by producing more IgA, which may protect against colds and flu.

For those of you who have sex more or less frequently than the optimal amount, fear not. According to another study by Charnetski, petting a dog can also significantly raise IgA.

2) Good for the heart

Physical activities that exercise the heart are good for your health, and this includes sex. Being sexually aroused increases heart rate, with the number of beats per minute peaking during orgasm.

[red heart and cardiogram]

Men who have regular sex are 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease.

Men, in particular, have been shown to benefit from the effect of sex on the heart. A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, involving men in their 50s, suggested that men who have sex at least twice per week have a 45 percent reduced risk of heart disease, compared with men who have sex less frequently.

The American Heart Association say that heart disease should not affect your sex life. Heart attacks or chest pain caused by heart disease rarely happen during sex and, for the most part, it is safe to have sex if your heart disease has stabilized.

The heart’s response to sex is comparable with mild to moderate effort encountered in daily activities, according to research published in the European Heart Journal. If you can take part in activities that have a similar impact on the heart – such as walking up two flights of stairs – without chest pain, then you can usually assume that it is safe to have sex.

More research is currently needed to draw connections between specific cardiovascular conditions and sex, particularly for women and older adults.

3) Lowers blood pressure

Research conducted by Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior found that sex in later years might reduce the risk of high blood pressure – at least for women.

Women in the study aged between 57 and 85 years who found sex pleasurable or satisfying were less likely to have hypertension. However, male study participants who had sex once per week or more were twice as likely to experience heart problems than men who were sexually inactive.

In another study published in Behavioral Medicine, researchers found that the act of hugging can help a person to maintain a healthy blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack and stroke and can also affect your sex life. High blood pressure has an impact on blood flow throughout the body and can prevent enough blood flowing to the pelvis.

In men, high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction and in women, high blood pressure can lower libido and reduce interest in sex. It is considered safe to have sex if you have high blood pressure. However, if you are concerned or are having problems in the bedroom, seek advice from your doctor.

4) Relieves pain

headache may often be used as a reason to avoid sex. However, before you reach for the painkillers, neurologists have found that sexual activity can relieve head pain associated with a migraine or cluster headache in some people.

[woman in bed with migraine]

Sex has been shown to ease the pain associated with migraines and cluster headaches.

The research was conducted by the University of Munster in Germany and published in Cephalalgia. In individuals with a migraine, 60 percent of people reported an improvement in pain after sexual activity, while 37 percent of people with a cluster headache reported an improvement.

The University of Munster researchers explain that sex triggering the release of endorphins is the mechanism behind the pain relief. Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers and are released through the central nervous system, which can reduce or eliminate pain the experienced with a headache.

In other research published in Pain, women were found to experience reduced pain sensitivity and had an increased pain tolerance threshold when experiencing pleasure through vaginal self-stimulation.

5) Reduces the risk of prostate cancer

Men who frequently ejaculate could be protected against prostate cancer, the most common cancer among men in the United States.

Research led by Michael Leitzmann, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, and published in JAMA, discovered that men who ejaculated 21 times per month or more were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who ejaculated between four and seven times per month.

Leitzmann and team have a number of theories as to why increased ejaculation may help to prevent prostate cancer.

The first theory is that frequent ejaculation may allow the prostate gland to clear out carcinogens, and materials that may orchestrate the development of carcinogens. Another theory suggests that regular drainage of prostate fluid stops crystalloid microcalcifications – which are associated with prostate cancer – from developing in the prostate duct.

Men who have more than 12 ejaculations per month may also benefit, although the researchers note that at this point, the research would not warrant recommending men to change their sexual behavior.

6) Improves sleep

Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night? Sexual activity could be just what the doctor ordered.

[woman sleeping on man's chest]

Some of the chemicals released during sex may help you to fall asleep more easily.

Insufficient sleep is a public health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Around 50 to 70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder.

Sex could be the answer to help you achieve the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.

During sex and orgasm, a cocktail of chemicals are released in the brain, which includes oxytocin, dopamine, and a rush of endorphins. Oxytocin, also known as the “cuddle hormone,” facilitates closeness and bonding, and it surges during sex and orgasm in both men and women.

After orgasm, it is thought that the effect of oxytocin, combined with the release of the hormone prolactin (which is linked to the feeling of satiety and relaxation), makes you feel sleepy.

In women, a rise in estrogen levels during sex has been shown to enhance their REM cycle, according to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

In men, the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with alertness, consciousness, and mental activity – “switches off” after orgasm. According to a study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, this process is connected with the release of oxytocin and serotonin, both of which have sleep-inducing effects.

7) Relieves stress

Stress can cause all kinds of health problems, from headaches, problems sleeping, muscle tension, and upset stomach, to more severe conditions, including a weakened immune system and chronic depression.

Evidence published in Psychosomatic Medicine demonstrated that physical or emotional intimacy in couples is associated with reduced stress levels.

A study published in Biological Psychology found that people who engaged in penetrative sex experienced lower stress-related blood pressure when public speaking than individuals who had masturbated or had non-coital sex. Participants in the study who abstained from sex had the highest blood pressure levels triggered by stress.

Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of Paisley in the United Kingdom, hypothesized that the calming effect might be caused by the release of the “pair-bonding” hormone, oxytocin.

8) Boosts brain power

Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that frequent sex may improve women’s memory. Results from a computerized word-memory task found that women who had penetrative sex had better memory recognition of abstract words.

[man holding a lightbulb]

Frequent sex may improve a woman’s ability to memorize words.

The researchers note that at this stage, it is unclear whether sex improves memory or if better memory leads to more sex. However, they say that sex may improve memory by stimulating the creation of new neurons in the hippocampus – the region of the brain that is involved in learning and memory.

Another study, by the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that thinking about love or sex has different effects on our brains.

Thinking about love activates long-term perspective and global processing, which promotes creative thinking and interferes with analytical thinking. However, in contrast, thinking about sex triggers short-term perspective and local processing, which then promotes analytical thinking and interferes with creativity.

9) Increases lifespan

Do you want to live longer? Sexual activity could hold the key to a longer life.

A study published in The BMJ concluded that sexual activity might have a protective effect on men’s health.

The researchers tracked the mortality of almost 1,000 men aged between 45 and 59 over the course of 10 years. They found that risk of death was 50 percent lower in men who frequently had orgasms than men who did not regularly ejaculate.

Other research also concluded with similar results. A 25-year study published in The Gerontologistdetermined that in men, frequent intercourse was a significant predictor of longevity, whereas in women, those who reported past enjoyment of sex lived longer.

10) Boosts self-esteem

In addition to all the physical benefits, having frequent satisfying sex may improve emotional wellness.

[woman with arms open in the sunset]

People who enjoy casual sex tend to report higher self-esteem and well-being.

Research published in Social Psychology and Personality Science found that among college students, those who enjoyed casual sex reported higher well-being and self-esteem levels, compared with students who did not have casual sex.

On the other side of the coin, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, women with higher self-esteem reported having more satisfying sex, including having more orgasms.

These are just some of the many benefits that sex can have for your health. While sex can be a pleasurable and exciting activity, it is important to remember that practicing safe sex can reduce the risks of contracting STDs, as well as helping to avoid unplanned pregnancies.

Does sex enhance older brains?

New research found that older adults who reported having sex at least once each week got better scores on certain cognitive tests than those who reported having sex only once per month or not at all.

Senior couple in bed together.

Researchers have discovered that older couples who have sex at least once weekly perform better on certain tests of cognitive ability.

The study – by researchers at Coventry University and the University of Oxford, both in the United Kingdom – is published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences.

Learn about the THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT YOUR PENIS

The research builds on earlier work, which found that sexually active older adults performed better on some tests of mental ability than those who were not sexually active.

However, it is not clear why such a link exists. The authors refer to other studies that have found that older adults who are physically active and also have busy social lives are likely to perform better on tests of mental function.

These might suggest that the link between sexual activity and cognitive function is just a reflection of the social and physical elements of sexual activity.

Lead author Dr. Hayley Wright, from the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement at Coventry University, and colleagues argue that sexual activity is a complex phenomenon with the potential to transcend not only its social and physical components, but also the emotional, psychological, and biological aspects.

They proposed that more frequent sexual activity may be linked with improved cognition, in the same way as such a link exists for other activities. Thus, they designed a study using a broader range of cognitive tests to investigate the link.

 

Study used range of cognitive tests

For their investigation, the team recruited 73 participants (28 men and 45 women) between 50 and 83 years of age, aged 62 on average.

The participants filled in a questionnaire that asked general questions about health and lifestyle, as well as how often they had engaged in sexual activity in the past 12 months. They were asked to respond with: once per week, once per month, or never.

Sexual activity was defined as “engagement in sexual intercourse, masturbation, or petting/fondling.”

The participants also underwent tests of mental ability. One of these – the Addenbrookes Cognitive Examination III – includes assessment of memory, verbal fluency, language, attention, and visuospatial ability, which is the ability to visualize objects and the spaces between them.

The verbal fluency test involves naming as many animals as possible in 60 seconds, and then to say as many words starting with the letter “F” as possible. The visuospatial ability test includes drawing a clock face from memory and copying a complicated design.

In their analysis, the researchers adjusted the results to account for gender, age, number of years of formal education, and cardiovascular health. They took heart health into account as this might influence frequency of sex and brain function.

Frequency of sex linked to cognitive scores

The results showed that frequency of sexual activity did not change with age, education, cardiovascular health, marital status, quality of life, and other factors.

More participants reported having had sex once each week than once per month or never in the last 12 months.

Participants who reported never having sex scored lower on average for overall cognitive function and verbal fluency compared with participants who reported having sex every week.

Also, participants who reported having sex once every month scored lower on average for verbal fluency and marginally lower on visuospatial ability, compared with those who reported having sex at least once weekly.

The team found no link between frequency of sexual activity and attention, memory, or language ability.

Because of its design, the study cannot prove that more frequent sex increases brain function; it can only establish a link and its strength. However, the researchers claim that it does shed more light on the association.

As Dr. Wright argues, “Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a ’cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people.”

She and her colleagues suggest that further studies should investigate the biological aspects of the link and examine, for instance, the roles of dopamine and oxytocin.

People don’t like to think that older people have sex – but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general well-being.”

Dr. Aubry Brain

Things you must know about your penis

Although many of us men are relatively familiar with our penis and its antics, there’s more to our appendage than meets the eye. In this feature, we discuss 10 interesting things that you probably didn’t know about your genitals.
Statue of David with close up on the penisWhat do you call yours?

Whatever you happen to call it — todger, wang, willy, or dangler — the penis is an odd-looking bit of kit. But beyond the japes and sniggers, it is, of course, vital to the survival of our species.

When you consider the penis as an evolutionary adaptation, it has done remarkably well.

We can all say without too much doubt that our father’s penis worked, as did our grandfather’s, and his father’s, and so on, right back through successive generations until we reach far beyond the birth of humanity.

The penis is ancient. Just in case you were wondering, the oldest known penis dates back 425 million years, and its fossilized remains belong to an arthropod dubbed Colymbosathon ecplecticos, which means “amazing swimmer with a large penis” in Greek.

It’s worth reflecting on its role in our species’ survival next time you are surprised by how easily your penis is “activated.” As far as reproduction is concerned, a false arousal is better than a missed opportunity.

As the author Mokokoma Mokhonoana once wrote, “Even the world’s greatest actor cannot fake an erection.” This leads us on to the first penis fact of the day.

1. Your first erection

Penises are born ready. It is common for babies to exit the womb with an erection. Even before the moment of birth, ultrasound scans sometimes show a fetus with a fully formed erection.

According to a study from 1991, fetal erections occur most commonly during random eye movement (REM) sleep. And, they can happen a number of times each hour. No one is quite sure why, but it might just be our body’s way of testing things out and keeping them running correctly.

2. Your penis is twice as long as you think

A lot of men might take solace in this fact: our penises are longer than they look. In fact, around half of its entire length is housed inside of our bodies.

Diagram of the penisAn internal view of the male genitalia.

You might be thinking, “Well, it’s no good to me up there,” but it needs to remain connected to the rest of your anatomy, so it’s probably best that it stays put.

As you can see from the diagram here, the mass of pink erectile tissue — which comprises the so grandly named corpus cavernosum and corpus spongiosum — extends well into the pelvic region, forming a sort of boomerang shape.

I wouldn’t use any of the above as a pick-up line, though.

3. The shoe size myth

Let’s lay this one to rest, shall we? According to a study published in the journal BJU International, there is no correlation between shoe size and penis length.

Although an older study — which was published in 1993 — did find that penile length was related to both height and foot length, it was a weak relationship, and the authors concluded, “Height and foot size would not serve as practical estimators of penis length.”

Also, the International Journal of Impotence Research published an Iranian study looking at other correlations. They concluded that “penile dimensions are significantly correlated with age, height, and index finger length,” but not foot size.

4. ‘Morning wood’

Most men have 3–5 erections every single night — mostly during REM sleep, as with the in utero boys.

A wooded area at sunrise

Morning wood isn’t as poetic as it sounds.

Also called nocturnal penile tumescence, it’s still not clear why it happens. However, one theory is that it might help to prevent bed-wetting; an erection inhibits urination.

A full bladder is known to stimulate nerves in a similar region to those involved in erections. But because females experience something similar — nocturnal clitoral tumescence — bed-wetting prevention is probably not the entire answer.

Another potential explanation is that REM sleep is linked with switching off cells that produce noradrenaline in the locus coeruleus, which is in the brainstem. These cells inhibit the tone of the penis. So, by reducing the inhibition, the penis becomes erect.

Whatever the reason behind nocturnal erections, they can be useful as a diagnostic tool. If a man has difficulty achieving an erection when awake but becomes erect when he sleeps, it is an indication that there is a psychological issue, rather than a physical one.

However, if he does not get erections during sleep, the issue may be physical.

5. One final erection

So, we’ve established that we can get erections in the womb and during sleep, but this is perhaps even more surprising: the death erection. Also called angel lust or terminal erection, it happens in the moments after death.

Most commonly, it occurs in men who have died from hanging; scientists believe that it may be due to pressure from the noose on the cerebellum. However, it has also been reported following death by a gunshot wound to the head, damage to major blood vessels, and poisoning.

6. You can break your penis

As I’m sure you are aware, there is no bone in your penis, which is fairly unusual for mammals. However, it is still possible to break your penis. It most commonly occurs during vigorous sex, although it has been documented to happen to men who fell out of bed with an erection.

Penile fracture, as it is known, is actually the rupture of the fibrous covering of the corpora cavernosa, which is the tissue that becomes erect when engorged with blood.

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