Exercise, Endorphins and Excitement
Have you lost that lovin’ feeling?
As we age, give birth and enter menopause, our hormone levels can shift, which can lower our sex drive. Up to three-quarters of women between the ages of 45 and 58—still young by today’s standards—note a drop in their libido because of shifts in estrogen and testosterone levels. Reduced estrogen also causes fewer endorphins (the “happy hormones”) to be released in our bodies.
With a drop in this feel-good chemical, our brain reacts as if danger was afoot. It orders up adrenaline, and a burst of norepinephrine—chemicals that make our hearts race, and our blood pressure rises. Our blood vessels dilate, which leads to hot flashes and sweating. These hormone shifts often lead to sleep imbalances, and a shift in metabolism. We know what that means: weight gain.
There are plenty of medical approaches to tweaking our body chemistry. But there’s also a simple, drug-free option that can help stabilize those hormones and bring back some of that desire: exercise.
Working out can strengthen our hearts, lower our blood pressure, reduce body fat, build muscle tone, and improve our strength. But there is much, much more. Exercise also releases our good old friends—endorphins—which produce a positive feeling, sometimes even euphoria. And guess what? They also trigger the hormones that boost our sex drive. And as our circulation increases, blood flows to all parts of our bodies, creating more arousal and lubrication.
But exercise improves more than your libido. It enhances your other hormone functions, as well. You may lose weight, sleep better (though too much evening exercise is discouraged if you are having trouble sleeping), and find yourself less stressed. And since stress is another factor known to squash sex drive, less can lead to more (more satisfying sex, that is).
As Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, says on her website, “There is hardly a menopausal symptom that exercise cannot help, including low libido.”
In addition to the cardiovascular exercises that we’re familiar with, targeted squeezing of the pelvic floor—also known as Kegel exercises (named after gynecologist Dr. Arnold Kegel)— can dramatically improve sexual pleasure by strengthening the muscles of your pelvic zone.
As little as 20 to 30 minutes of cardio a day can help you handle the ups and downs of a major hormonal mutiny, and bring back that lovin’ feelin’. Walking, swimming, aerobics, cross-training, yoga, hiking—it does not matter what you like to do. All that matters is that you do it!