It’s a given that exercise is a great way of burning those extra calories and staying fit.
Depending on your individual needs, your trainer may plan a variety of routines for you, including some basic cardiovascular movements like running or swimming.
While these exercises will certainly keep you healthy, they may not entirely be fun. Will having sex be good enough to stay in shape, foregoing all other physically demanding fitness activities? Well, yes and no. Over the decades, several studies on the subject have indicated that sex is a moderate intensity physical exercise.
Numbers can be reduced to being mere statistics, but they point to interesting facts. To begin with, how long does intercourse last on an average? Studies have shown that for heterosexual couples, it can last between 5.4 minutes and nine minutes. Moreover, an entire lovemaking session is believed to last for about 20 minutes, on an average. By any yardstick, 20 odd minutes of sex cannot possibly match up to the time it takes, say, to walk 10,000 steps or even run a mile. So, how many calories are actually burnt during sex? In a 2013 study titled ‘Energy Expenditure during Sexual Activity in Young Healthy Couples’, US researchers showed that energy expenditure during sexual activity amounts to around 85 calories. It is close to the amount one spends in walking at a moderate speed for about 20-25 minutes. The study also concluded that sex “may potentially be considered, at times, as a significant exercise,” and far more enjoyable than say 30 minutes on the treadmill.
While sex definitely brings you closer to your partner, it pays to take a look at the health benefits too. Dr Kedar Tilwe, psychiatrist and sexologist, SL Raheja Hospital, Mumbai, explains that as a bio-physiological process, sex has definite health benefits, such as improved cardio-vascular response, lowered blood pressure, and a boost in immunity levels. “Even the mental wellness of a person improves due to the involvement of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and oxytocin,” he says.
In other words, just like what happens during, say, a ‘runner’s high’, sex or an orgasm that results from sex can ensure the release of a heady mix of feel-good hormones. That aside, it gets your breath racing, which indicates the spending of calories. Bangalore-based tech consultant Averi Mukherjee*, 32, says her partner and she are extremely physical and often indulge in marathon sex sessions. “We can safely say that it does feel like exercising, and with profuse sweating and feeling out of breath, we experience the kinds of physical responses normally associated with hard-core exercises. The plus point is that sex is emotionally fulfilling as well. In a way, I, for one, feel that sex should count as a holistic exercise,” she says. Studies have reported that sex has a correlation with longevity as well. A British Medical Journey study, covering 918 men aged between 49 and 59 years for 10 years, showed that those who had been having two or more orgasms per week had 50 per cent lower mortality rates.
The pleasure component
Imagine this. It’s raining hard outside, and you do not want to brave the rains for your pilates lessons. You would rather prefer to burn calories in the cosy comfort of your home. And nothing could be a more pleasant way of burning calories than getting some action between the sheets! You work your muscles up and, at the same time, you feel good about it. In fact, a study shows that when a group of men and women was asked to compare the two activities, namely sex and exercise, all the men and 95 per cent of the women agreed that sex was a far more pleasurable activity than sweating it out at the gym.
To further emphasise the point, sex is not only good for your body, but it’s also beneficial for your mind with many emotional benefits. You can attribute this to a wonder hormone called oxytocin. Also called the ‘love hormone’, it is said to play a significant function in sex and relationship-building. Needless to say, the more you enjoy sex with your partner, the better it will be for your relationship.
Experts say that oxytocin levels rise during sex, which in turn can help you eat less and control your weight. But there’s a caveat. The effects of the hormone can be transient—within 10 minutes of its release, half of the hormone can dissipate. So, don’t count too much on it, just curb your tendency to binge eat after sex. That can help in overall weight-loss.
Can masturbation burn calories?
Studies show that most women burn around three calories per minute while having penetrative sex. There, however, is no hard evidence that shows that masturbation can burn more calories than penetrative sex. Since masturbation does not involve intensive body movements, it will not get your heart rate to a level at which it can start burning fat. The act, however, can certainly help you destress, with the release of endorphins, the ‘happy hormones’.
Amp it up
To ensure that your fun intimacy session is also leading you to be fitter, try mixing it up to increase the calorie burning. To begin with, try changing positions. The more exacting the position, the higher the chance of expending a serious amount of energy. Dr Manjiri Mehta, consultant gynaecologist, obstetrician and laparoscopic surgeon, Hiranandani Hospital, Navi Mumbai, says, “To increase the calorie burning during sex, partners need to extend the duration of lovemaking. Try different positions and aim for multiple orgasms.” Dr Tilwe adds that along with changing positions, the pace of lovemaking can also help in keeping things interesting and exciting between you and your partner. Unfortunately, there is no hard data that shows the exact correlation between the duration of and creativity in sex and the burning of calories. The best solution would be going for a combination of slow - and fast-paced lovemaking — you need the marathon sessions as well as the high-intensity quickies.
Can sex replace exercise?
There’s no denying the fact that sexual activity can have a positive impact on your overall well-being. Apart from burning calories, according to Dr Mehta, sex can be a good exercise for the pelvic, paraspinal, and other muscles. And sex can reduce stress as well. But that’s not enough. “Sex cannot be considered an exercise in the traditional sense of the term; it most certainly cannot replace any exercise routine,” she stresses. Exercising and sex each have unique benefits. The 2013 study compared the exertion rate for couples when on the treadmill and during sexual activity. No prizes for guessing that on this count, the treadmill fared better. Experts say that you shouldn’t consider replacing exercising altogether with lovemaking. Instead, both should happily coexist in your life. Sex can only supplement your daily exercise routine, advises Dr Tilwe. While you’re working up a sweat in the bedroom, don’t think of ditching the gym, please.
Try these and get the calorie burner ticking
Tweak the classic woman-on-top position. When you straddle your partner, make sure that you use your leg muscles to move up and down. In a way, it’s akin to doing squats.
It can be super sexy. Think shower sex. Believe it or not, having sex while one partner stands against a wall can ensure a high calorie burn. Of course, both of you should be comfortable enough with the position.
If you prefer the missionary position, try and keep your legs up once he enters you. Not only will it help you burn more calories, but also work your leg muscles.
*Some names have been changed on request