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What healthy habits can improve my sex life?

Jan L. Shifren, MD
Reproductive Endocrinology
The same healthy habits you rely on to keep your body in shape can also shape up your sex life.

Exercise, exercise, exercise. Physical activity is first and foremost among the healthy behaviors that can improve your sexual functioning. Because physical arousal depends greatly on good blood flow, aerobic exercise (which strengthens your heart and blood vessels) is crucial. And exercise offers a wealth of other health benefits, from staving off heart disease, osteoporosis, and some forms of cancer to improving your mood and helping you get a better night's sleep. Also, don't forget to include strength training.

Don't smoke. Smoking contributes to peripheral vascular disease, which affects blood flow to the penis, clitoris, and vaginal tissues. In addition, women who smoke tend to go through menopause two years earlier than their nonsmoking counterparts. If you need help quitting, try nicotine gum or patches or ask your healthcare provider about the drugs bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix).

Use alcohol in moderation. Some men with erectile dysfunction find that having one drink can help them relax, but heavy use of alcohol can make matters worse. Alcohol can inhibit sexual reflexes by dulling the central nervous system. Drinking large amounts over a long period can damage the liver, leading to an increase in estrogen production in men. In women, alcohol can trigger hot flashes and disrupt sleep, compounding problems already present in menopause.

Eat right. Overindulgence in fatty foods leads to high cholesterol and obesity -- both major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In addition, being overweight can promote lethargy and a poor body image. Increased libido is often an added benefit of losing those extra pounds.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.