Posts made in September, 2011

Wednesday Bubble: Exercise and Sexual Health – How you move affects how you groove. Guest post by Alexandra Williams, MA

Posted by on Sep 7, 2011 in aging, exercise, sexual health, women's health | 0 comments


Every now and then I like to shake things up in this space, which is why I asked fitness professional writer, speaker and radio host Alexandra Williams (aka @alexandrafunfit on Twitter) to lend me her expertise for a day. What I didn’t expect, however, was for her to rock the sexual health world with the revelation that exercise, i.e. how you move, affects how you groove. Frankly, if all it takes is exercise, you will find me adding an extra hour or so a day at the gym!

Show Alexandra some love. She’s witty and has been putting the fun back into fitness for for some time now…


Sexual health is defined by Mosby’s Medical Dictionary. as “a capacity to enjoy and control sexual behavior without fear, shame or guilt.” Sexual dysfunction is broadly defined by the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine as “disorders that interfere with a full sexual response cycle. These disorders make it difficult for a person to enjoy or to have sexual intercourse.”

The good news, especially for older adults, is that most sexual dysfunctions can be treated or alleviated through exercise. It has been found to increase sexual drive, functioning, activity and satisfaction, due to the physical endurance, muscle tone and body composition derived from exercise. In addition, exercise activates the sympathetic nervous system, which encourages blood flow to the genital regions. Even low levels of physical activity can elevate mood and help keep sex organs and muscles in better working condition. A 2000 study found that after just 20 minutes of vigorous exercise, women became more sexually responsive, while men had increased testosterone levels after short, intense bouts of exercise.

Frequency, level of desire, and enjoyment are also affected positively for those who engage in regular exercise, at any age. In 2004, a study of college-age students a strong correlation was found between fitness levels, self-perception, body image, social meaning, outward appearance and sexual performance and desire. These findings were replicated in studies of people in their forties and sixties. And of course, sexual activity itself counts as exercise!

One really interesting comparison of exercise and sexual activity, looked at heart rate and blood pressure during treadmill exercise and sexual activity (not simultaneously)! Unsurprisingly, participants spent more time in sexual activity than they did on the treadmill, but here’s the intriguing point – the treadmill exercise duration predicted sexual activity duration. For each minute of treadmill time, there was 2.3 minute increase in sexual activity duration!

There are also a number of sexual diseases and dysfunctions that are radically improved through exercise. For example, exercise has a protective effect on Type 2 diabetes, with pelvic floor exercises of specific value. A minimum of approximately 50% of overweight men with Type 2 diabetes have erectile dysfunction, a frustrating condition that is helped enormously by cardiorespiratory fitness.

Urinary incontinence is markedly improved via pelvic floor muscle training, with 100% of women reporting decreased incontinence frequency and duration. And it works for men too – after the strengthening training, incidences of urinary and fecal incontinence decreased, and erectile function increased. Pelvic floor exercises are also an effective modality for primiparous (giving birth only once) women who have vaginal deliveries. Desire and satisfaction go up, and pain goes down for these women.

Breast cancer survivors consistently report an improved quality of life (better physical functioning, reduced fatigue and pain) when they participate in physical activity. In addition, prostate and bladder cancer are positively affected by exercise, including its stress-reducing aspects.

Sexual activity itself has been found to help with cardiovascular disease, with researchers finding that sexual activity corresponds to light to moderate physical exercise and entails no significant risk to the majority of patients with cardiovascular disease (severe angina or chronic heart failure are exceptions).

There’s been a lot of research on the relationship between exercise and erectile dysfunction, which affects over 100 million men. The link between cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and erectile dysfunction is strong, and exercise is a mitigating factor on all three. Doctors who prescribe movement to patients with these three issues have reported high success rates. This is good news, especially considering that exercise is a less invasive treatment than medications, surgery or testosterone replacement therapies.

Sexual functioning and health is something everyone should have at any age. Exercise just may be the magic pill!

About the author…

Alexandra Williams, MA, has been in the fitness industry for over 25 years. She is the co-owner of Together with her twin sister, she writes, teaches and speaks on fitness-related topics, using wit and research! For more, be sure to write to Alexandra and Kymberly at if you are the sort of person who likes to put a voice to an image, be sure to check Alexandra and Kymberly out on their radio program ‘Fun and Fit.’


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Losing love? Must be your appearance…

Posted by on Sep 5, 2011 in aging, appearance | 4 comments

I love it when I run across these. Here’s another great vintage pharmaceutical ad, this time on middle aged skin. What amazes me is that it raises the issue about advertising and pushing the youthful ‘agenda;’ seems that it’s been building for decades. And speaking of body image, an oldie but goodie. What would you give up for perfection?

What would you trade to reach what you considered your ideal body weight and image? How much would you sacrifice?

The question seems absurd doesn’t it? However, researchers from the University of West England, in partnership with The Succeed Foundation, that body image is a major issue for women of all ages.

Although this survey of 320 women mostly comprised university-aged women, the breakdown did skew as high as 65 years. Moreover, the majority were of normal (i.e. BMI 18.5 to 24.9) weight.

Of all the women surveyed, 93% said that they had had negative thoughts about their appearance and nearly a third, several times daily. Approximately 80% said they would like to lose weight, even though about 78% were of normal weight or underweight. What’s more, the women said that on average, they would like to lose about 16 pounds. However, most importantly, 30% of women said that they would trade at least a year of their lives to achieve their ideal body shape and weight.

Other sacrifices to achieve the ideal included:

  • losing over $8,000 from their annual salary
  • giving up time with their partner
  • forgoing a promotion at work.

Numerous studies and reviews have documented the association between age and body image but have mostly focused on adolescents and teens. In recent years, more and more reports are emerging that demonstrate that eating disorders and issues with body issues is not necessarily age-centric.

There’s no doubt that images of young models dressed and made up to look like women  and airbrushed celebrities the permeate the media scape have contributed to if not exacerbated the problem. However, what is it the makes women consistently strive for an unreasonable ideal throughout their lifetimes, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice basic necessities and relationships to achieve this goal?

As women, we’ve come very far. But clearly, many of us clearly continue to give their power away when it comes to self-image, self-esteem, achievement in the workplace and even in our relationships. This study is a wake-up call, not only to our generation but to generations of women who are following in our footsteps.

So tell me, what would you sacrifice to achieve the idea?

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Got Sleep? You may want to consider valerian

Posted by on Sep 2, 2011 in aging, herbal medicine, sleep disturbance | 2 comments

I was out the other day with a few friends and one of them mentioned to me that she was not sleeping well, mainly due to the start of night sweats. She asked me what my secret was. To be entirely honest, I laughed; while I’ve managed to shut down just about every other symptom associated with perimenopause, a full night’s sleep continues to elude me. Still, ever the optimist when it comes to alternative strategies, I pointed her to a few potential interventions that had some strong evidence backing their use for night sweats and symptoms in general, which by default, may help sleep issues.

Ironically, a newly published study in the journal Menopause focuses on valerian and its potential use for insomnia during menopause. A bit more about valerian:

  • Valerian is a perennial that is native to Europe and Asia but is grown in North America. It is well known for its sedative properties and was used by the Greeks and Romans as early as the second century AD.
  • In modern times, valerian has been used for insomnia and other sleep disorders. It has a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) designation by the FDA and is prescribed as a sedative in Germany under Commission E approval.
  • Valerian, which comes most commonly in tablet, extract (tincture) and tea forms, is reportedly among the eight most widely used herbal supplements in America, and data from 2002 suggest that approximately 2 million adults in the US report using it on a weekly basis.

Okay, so we know it’s safe. But, does it work?

To date, reports about valerian effectiveness have been mixed, with some showing benefits with regards to sleep and others, no benefits. In this latest study, researchers evaluated 100 menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 60 who were not using hormones and did not have any medical or psychiatric conditions that would interrupt sleep.  The women, all of whom had been in menopause for at least a year, used a supplement containing 530 mg valerian daily or placebo tablet. Over the course of the study, they were asked to report sleep information using a scientific questionnaire measuring:

  • quality of sleep
  • length of time required to fall asleep
  • length of time asleep
  • ratio of time asleep versus total time in bed
  • anything that disturbed their sleep
  • use of sleeping medication
  • any interruption in daytime activities due to lack of sleep

The result? Valerian was shown to significantly improve sleep quality in as many as 30% of participants compared to placebo, which the researchers say, support its use in the management of insomnia. Moreover, valerian reportedly does so without any significant side effects that are generally associated with sleep agents. Nevertheless, individuals using valerian have reported feeling hungover or drowsy the next day.

Inarguably, many factors affect sleep quality beyond hormones including stress, partner issues, use of alcohol or other drugs or caffeine, light conditions and psychiatric issues like depression and anxiety. In an accompanying editorial, the author claims that in addition to the loss of progesterone, societal pressures are at play, namely the loss of “youthful appearance in a culture drenched with youth-oriented values” and “post-bedtime ruminations” resulting from change in social roles and associated mood disorders. Granted, while cultural issues may be a factor in some women, I hardly believe that  aging’s toll interferes with sleep or that a woman’s sense of worth is an overriding cause of insomnia. Indeed, many optimistic, happy women start losing their sleep numbers as they age.

Regardless of the overriding cause, insomnia affects roughly half of all menopausal women and the problem pervades just about every aspect of a life as a result. If valerian offers relief, I say go for it. If anything, it’s a safe tool that may improve sleep quality.

Got sleep? Maybe valerian holds your key to getting enough zzzs.



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