Does Sex Count as Exercise?

Q: Does sex burn enough calories or raise the heart rate enough to count as exercise?

A: Having sex certainly counts as physical activity and sometimes even reaches the level of “moderate” exercise. But whether it’s consistent and vigorous enough to count as a workout is another matter. Even the most hopping sex life cannot replace other kinds of exercise in your life.

For one reason, sex doesn’t typically last as long as it takes you to walk 10,000 steps, take a spin class, or even run a mile. One study pegged the average sex act at about six minutes. For another reason, fewer than half of married people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s report having sex more than two or three times a week. Yet the CDC recommends adults get two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise—the level of brisk walking—along with muscle strengthening activity.

Sex doesn’t burn as much energy as a non-horizontal workout for most people, either. The oft-cited statistic that “sex burns 100 to 200 calories per session” is more overstatement than science. One study found that most men burn about four calories per minute having sex, compared to more than twice that while jogging. 

Sex occasionally reaches the level of “moderate” exertion, comparable to playing doubles tennis or walking uphill, but whether it counts as actual exercise depends on how long you maintain that pace. The same study monitored people’s hearts on a treadmill in a lab and during sexual activity at home to compare exertion. The treadmill won.

One study did find that a sex session lasting an average of 25 minutes (including foreplay) burned an average of 101 calories in men and 69.1 calories in women. But compared to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity running, which burned 279 calories in men and 213 calories in women, sex is hardly a grueling workout. Another study found that the a man expends approximately 3.5 calories per minute during sex, which is roughly equivalent to walking at a moderate pace. An average sex session (minus foreplay) only lasts about six minutes, however, making the total calorie burn pretty negligible.

Other studies have also found that sex can relieve everything from anxiety and depression to high blood pressure. When men orgasm, their bodies release seratonin, oxytocin, and prolactin, all hormones associated with better moods, relaxation, and lowered stress. Multiple studies have also found links between regular sex and a reduced risk for heart disease and prostate cancer, and a stronger immune system.

As far as sex counting towards strength training, you do use a lot of muscles, but which muscles and to what degree is determined by your nookie style. If you prefer to be on top, the legs and arms get a lot more action than if you are a passive partner. The thrusting motion of sex is great to firm the stomach and glutes, which can improve posture. Sex, for women, has the added benefit of engaging the pelvic floor and abs. Kegels, an exercise important for strengthening the pelvic floor, can also make sex more pleasurable for you and your partner, so ladies, take full advantage of that. 

The proper definition for strength training is working all your major muscle groups through their full range of motion against resistance. While you may feel a burn in certain areas, sex isn’t thorough enough to count as real strength training. In terms of cardio, if you’re really into it, you can accelerate your heart rate enough to burn some serious calories, but chances are you’ll be focusing more on your partner than making sure your heart rate stays in the aerobic stage.

Finally, sex is a great way to get your blood pumping and burn calories, and every once in a while, for the sake of your relationship, you can skip the gym for a private session with your partner. For the sake of your health, and how you look during sex, however, make a habit of engaging in both regularly. You’re better off getting sweaty in the gym with your partner first, and then reaping the sexual benefits of your workout afterward.

Culled by: Denyce Efo Kodzo/


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